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Down and Dirty

IMG_7400Some spring days start by getting down and dirty amid tender shoots, plant divisions and cuttings, all while setting out a festive French picnic with some of the most delightful women around, and end up in the company of one of the sweetest persons on earth, our daughter Jennifer.

Monday was one of those spring days.

Our garden club held is springtime plant sale. Members bring divisions, cutting, slips and shoots that are sold. I only brought a few plants home this time – and that was because I was one of several women who were the month’s hostesses. Our garden here are abundant with plants that made their way up the Cutoff from the gardens of our club’s members.

DSCN8020While members of the horticulture committee were trying not to get dirt on their clothes arranging pots of herbs, perennials, and grasses, the hostesses set up a springtime Parisian lunch. From croissants to cream puffs, and everything in between, it was a tasty spread and a delightful group to serve with and I saw the hort ladies working hard, trying to show the members various plant donations while making sure the Mansion was kept clean.

As I sat down for an informative presentation on plants to use for outdoor pots, my phone pulsed and there was a message from Jennifer, wondering if I would like to meet up with her for some shopping at the Oak Brook Shopping Center.

Would I?  When a daughter rings I’m thrilled, so, when the meeting was done and our cars re-loaded with all the accouterments of a French picnic. I headed to Oak Brook to find Jennifer.

Aren’t cell phones wonderful?

We shopped and talked and stopped for some little bites at the Nordstrom Cafe, and talked some more and I just couldn’t help but bask in the glow of a wonderful spring day. After we hugged goodbye and Jenny went her way, I mine, I got down and dirty just one more time when I saw these golden tulips dancing in the spring breeze.

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A Traveling Blaze

DSCN7562 - Version 4An ominous cloud of thick, black smoke billowed. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from – until I saw the flames.

I had just turned west. Eastbound traffic was bumper to bumper, a typical Friday rush hour, with a half mile of cars and trucks at a standstill, while 6 feet or more of flames were spitting upward – on top of a garbage truck, which was also stuck in traffic!

The garbage was on fire. Not just a smoldering ember;  a fire that was leaping and dancing under the canopy of elms and oaks and maples.

I slowed in my lane, cognizant of approaching cars, which had enough distance to see me decelerate. I rolled down my window, staring at the driver of the truck, my arms flailing out the window, pointing upward, mouthing “YOU ARE ON FIRE!! “.

I needed to move lest my stopping created a jam in the westbound direction and cause even more of a problem and prayed the fire didn’t get out of control. It was still contained in the garbage bin of the truck.

A few blocks down,  at a break in traffic, I turned left, and heard the wail of sirens. A fire truck and ambulance were headed in the direction I just came from to put out the traveling blaze.

Portrait of Penny

William James Glackens (American artist, 1870-1938) Portrait of PennyI seem to be in a bit of book lag; I pick them up, put them down, forget where I put them, go on to another, find the first . . . the point is that I’m in one of those passages in life where I am not getting hooked in the first chapters.  It is not the fault of the writers but of myself.  I seem to be in a distracted spell, needing a magic wand to whisk me back to literature.

I have three library books, now overdue, that need rapid transit to the library. They have been renewed so many times that they are now non-renewable. Does that ever happen to you?

I keep meaning to start “The Light We Cannot See”; even more so now that the author, Anthony Doerr was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

“Ironweed”, by William Kennedy, has been gathering dust along with “Spook”, by Mary Roach and a host of other books that are begging me to opening them up – and keep them open.  I will.  I know I will. Sometimes a book just needs to bide its time until the words resting inside become comfortable on the reader’s eyes. Like the books about me, I was biding my time.

I’ve been busy with our garden and the garden club, household chores and my many activities, life in progress. I did find time to stop in at charming gift shop in nearby Clarendon Hills.  Ebenezer’s is filled with antiques and vintage items, ribbons and cards, jewelry and dolls – and a lovely  collection of teacups and serving plates. I wandered around, the music of Downton Abbey floating through the air as I hobbled up the wooden staircase, admiring a table set with flow blue, old cookbooks and glassware, before returning to the main floor, whose boards squeaks in that companionable way that old floorboards have of telling their tale. I checked out the jewelry and stuffed animals, then noticed the wide array of classic, and soon-to-be classic, children’s literature.

Do you know what I found?  It was a book I’ve been looking for ever since seeing a documentary last winter about children’s author/illustrator Virginia Lee Burton. Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place, is wonderful production about her life, her marriage, her family and her work. Many of you know “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” and “Katy”. I’d forgotten about “Choo Choo”, which I bought for our Ezra, who love, love, loves trains and hoped to one day find “The Little House” after seeing the documentary.

“The Little House” is available online and at bookstores, but, I had it in my mind to find it, just like the great great granddaughter of the man who first built the little house finds it in Burton’s story, I needed to find “The Little House”, and I did, there in the charming shop called Ebenezer’s, late in the afternoon. It seemed to be waiting for me to come upon it, to open its covers, and to bring it home.

This is an endearing children’s story, which is really about urban development encroaching upon country life. This little house is built on a hillside  looking out over the pastures and fields and up to the sun and the moonlit skies. As the pages turn, trees and farms and schools and roads, then stores and trains and skyscrapers appear until the little house is alone on a city street, sad and boarded up, no longer relevant (or so it seems), until a young woman walks by and remembers her great great grandfather’s house.

Historic preservation in a children’s book, written mid-twentieth century, “The Little House” is refereed to as Rachel Carson for kids. First published in 1942, this is a cautionary tale for adults as much as a sweet storybook for children.

I brought “The Little House” home and settled upon the rocker which Tom’s great grandfather rocked, in my own 90+ year old house. Some of the resident herd of deer were grazing on the clear cut lot next door. A hawk circled overhead, then a raucous gaggle of geese. There are remnants of an apple orchard and walnut trees stain the street with their bounty. Our soil was once tilled as farmland and old traps can be found when wandering about. It is as idyllic as it is not,  bounded by a road cut off and two major highways, a railroad yard close by and sloughs as ancient as the earth itself but a few miles away. As I rocked and read my newfound book reminded me of how children’s literature can snap me out of a bit of book lag and carry me home to where I ought to be.

Then, I remembered the painting above by William James Glacken, titled Portrait of Penny. A book not yet opened, a cookie to be nibbled, and a bit of the young girl hidden within.

Sigh.  I think I’m over my book lag.

Thelittlehouse

What I Would Miss

Daffodils:front in sunWhat wonders these are; these daffodils and the changing light, a patch Lily-of-the-valley hugging the brick wall and the Bleeding Hearts getting ready to set forth their lovely blossoms.  Oh, the promises spring holds in the slowly emerging seeds of the earth and the color of cardinal’s wing or the calling of a mourning dove.

Oh, we complain.  It is too cold! No, not more snow! The rains never cease and the creek overflows. Spring spawns devastating tornadoes. We hover over clothes: winter wear today or summer? Both?  We ache from the early over exuberance of tending our gardens, or freeze when the sun is out but the temperatures are still hovering at 40 degrees. We paint our toenails, and our fingernails, too, for the dirt under them lingers no matter how hard we scrub. Hand lotions and epsom salts temper our eagerness – and then we go outside for more.

As much as I love springtime, I honestly think I love it the most when it unfurls slowly. I would miss the long-lasting display of daffodils and the sweet thrill of discovering that the celandine poppies have begun their show.

DSCN7973I would rue missing that moment where, suddenly, there is the Brunnera Langstree beginning his show and the sweet blossoms are gathering in the Donald Wyman Crab, also aka Kezzie’s tree, for it was planted when she was born. I would miss the steady show of the common periwinkle. the tentative tips of Mayapples and the steady climb of clematis.

It has been that kind of spring; the slowly emerging kind. While I long for warmer days, I am relishing these remarkable days of a new adventure with each new bud and blossom that appear overnight. I have enjoyed bringing flowers from the garden indoors, in large bunches and in small handfuls. Joy Supreme.

Crabapple:David Wyman:BudsBrunnera Langstee

If spring came too quickly, I would not have noticed the flitting and fussing over the backdoor eave and the conversations of is there or isn’t there?

The first inkling of activity came when our Minnesota family were in. Kezzie and I were walking past the garage when something flitted by. We both said an “Oh. What was that?” I suspected a robin.  From where I sit at the table, I could see it darting and dashing past the window, just over Tom’s head as he ate. When the car pulled into the drive, there was that flash of activity.

Yesterday, after we took a walk down to the stables, I looked up, over the door, in the sheltering eave, and there was Mama Robin was looking right back at me.

Robin:Nest:Wreath:CLOSE UP

Yes, indeed, I would miss all this drama and beauty if spring unfurled too quickly.

What would you miss?

. . . and so it goes

 

Photo on 12-2-14 at 12.41 PM #2Oops!

I almost forgot to post a poem for National Poetry Month. Here’s one from one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins. 

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

 

Happy Arbor Day

arbor-day-history-small

Well, now, I just assumed we all celebrate Arbor Day at the same time. Silly me.

Here is a neat little map that shows when Arbor Day is in your neck of the woods.  Click here to find your state’s date with a tree, then, go plant a tree, visit an arboretum, garden or zoo, recycle paper, take walk in the woods, breath a little lighter – or just give thanks for trees in our lives, wherever you may live.

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

Henry David Thoreau

Whiteout

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An icy chill settled in last night.  We brought out the coats and gloves that we wish were by now relegated to the deepest corners of our closets, put on sweaters, and groaned. Here and there were flurries; mere whispers of snow. Hereabouts we know it would not be unusual to have a snowstorm in April. Those who had hanging baskets, or tender annuals in pots, were encouraged to put them in garages. Tender perennials wore sheets and blankets, all tucked into their beds, guarding them against a late frost.

 On Monday, however, it was warmer. After an early morning commitment, then a meeting, and in spite of the strong winds and cloudy skies, a quick stop at the Arboretum was just what I needed. A balm for my deprived gardening soul.

It was quiet; a rare opportunity at such a popular destination. With a few hearty hikers and clusters of schoolchildren on arboreal field trips, all in their colorful jackets and rain slickers, collecting seeds and observing the emerging plants, I was as rare as sunshine as I waddled around the paths and motored about the slow, winding lanes.

I love these moments in nature; the quiet ones in which I seem to have God’s kingdom to myself.  Of course, I don’t, but you already know that I have an abundantly overactive imagination, which was in full throttle on Monday afternoon.

Close up of white daffodil:garden

The flowering trees were decked out as if waiting for their dates to the prom and the daffodils were so abundant and colorful that they took my breath away.

DSCN7960 - Version 3The Redbud trees were in that whisper stage where they are blushing softly and thinking about making their grand entrance soon. The forsythia have been abundantly colorful this year, while the magnolias, well, the magnolias always seem to suffer in a northerly clime, but, even they were hanging on tight.

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With a threatening sky that looked like snow, the whites of this time of blossoms seemed to defy Mother Nature and proclaim “I’m here, I’ve been  waiting far too long for my time to dance and swing and way, so, I’m wearing my best dress anyway. ” 

Flowering tree in full bloom

So, for today, though the yellows and purples are certainly out and about, I hope you don’t mind if I just show you the many versions of Snow White’s gowns, languishing about, just waiting to dance with the sun.

Hydrangea against window:visitor center Birch and pussy willowsClose up of white daffodil:garden:2 snowdrops:zoo

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