Thursday, January 31, 2008

Promise of spring

We go on the mission every spring, in March, right before we leave grey and dirty Illinois for a spring break week or two in someplace warm and sunny like Arizona or California. Sometimes we dress appropriately and sometimes, we get the whim on the way home from lunch out and go in shoes that are not right for the mud and pants we really should not have gotten that wet. But when the mood to hunt the first flower of spring strikes, common sense it not a ruling factor. We know where to find them. Along a creek in a certain forest preserve, near the banks, in places where the creek wraps around low flat areas. We know they are there but we just can’t see them at first and we begin to wonder if we are too early. But soon, one of us catches the pattern of the contrast of texture of the smooth spathe of the flower with the roughness of the leaf litter and begins to see the shape, pointed tip above the swelling curve, and once that person points them out, the others begin to see them as well. We mince around carefully trying not to step on any of them and everyone else gets enough of the adventure a bit before I get my fill and get my pictures taken. They urge me to join them back on the path, and home we go, content to have found our first flower of spring and the promise that it brings of more conventionally pretty flowers and warmer weather to come.
Read more about this lovely plant here:

Get out there into it!


My sons and I seed lucky days. I am sure you know that when you find a penny, it means you will have a lucky day. I hate pennies. They accumulate in useless piles on endtables and countertops and nightstands around the house and clog up the ash tray in the car. They should be eliminated from use and all transactions rounded to the nearest nickel. They cost more to make than they are worth. I refuse to participate in the use of pennies as change. At my art gallery, I round in the customer’s favor to the nearest five cents. And when someone gives me pennies as change, I turn them into lucky day seeds. I drop them discretely outside the store and along the sidewalk. So that someone else will find them and feel lucky.
One day I had done just that, seeded the sidewalk in front of my Jeep before climbing in to go. As I sat there in the driver’s seat, I remembered one more stop I needed to make and was about to get back out when I saw a man walk across the front of my vehicle, stop, look around, go back, pick up the penny, pause, smile, and put it in his pocket. That day, that penny, that lucky-day-seed, did indeed sprout, because with that man’s freshly discovered smile and air of expectation, how could he have anything but a lucky day? My sons use their pennies in the same way. I hope you find one of our lucky day seeds for yourself someday, but here’s the thing: You don’t have to keep it for it to work. You can squeeze it between a forefinger and thumb, say to yourself “Today is my lucky day!” and drop it back down to seed another lucky day for another lucky passerby!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What I saw

I saw three crows on the road today. I saw black ponies standing in the snow. I saw a hawk diving for a kill. I saw people arguing in a parking lot. I saw the sun through black branches of leafless trees. I saw ice crystals on the windowpane.

My day was not as bad as this guy's

Out of the Nest

My son doesn’t need me anymore. He was in his 3rd of 4 weeks home from college as a Freshman. He was sounding deep voiced and congested so I asked if he was sick. He said he had been for 3 days and was actually getting better. I said “Why didn’t you tell me?” Okay, maybe I shrieked that. He said “Why? What would you have done?” “Well, I would have made you take Advil every 4 hours so you would feel better and Mucinex twice a day to keep it from turning into a sinus infection and I would have reminded you to drink water often to keep hydrated.” He said “I have been doing all that, just like you taught me.” I said “Well, it sounds like you don’t need me anymore.” Okay, maybe I whined that. He said “No, I guess I don’t need you. But I love you, Mom!” He’s a good kid! Okay, maybe I’m bragging now.

I am not

I am not a writer. My sister is a writer. She will cringe at my bad grammar and poor writing and crappy sentence structure – phrases that are not complete sentences - and terrible punctuation; and careless sppellling if she reads this. I probably won’t tell her about it. She is a far better writer. She is prettier and smarter and thinner and more talented and more successful and funnier too. I should tell her, now that I have written that. We aren’t the sort of people who actually give each other personal compliments like that. We aren’t huggers either. I might say “Nice sweater” and she might tell me that her friend liked my artwork. I’d never tell her all that good stuff to her face. But she is a great writer. She is a real writer. I am proud of my sister.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

South Dakota . . . Prairie?

They use the word ‘prairie’ around here. They use it wrong. There is a Prairie Casino. A Prairie Auto Parts, Prairie Design, Prairie Communication, Prairie Home Inspection, Prairie Tool Company. Prairie is a word used in advertisements and newspaper articles and radio shows and television weather reports as in “Here on the prairie . . . “ But this is not a prairie. This land has very little to do with the prairie anymore. Few people around here even know what prairie means. This land is not prairie. It is the plains. It is former prairie that has been scraped clean of actual prairie and planted to agricultural crops and assaulted with chemical fertilizers and herbicides and insecticides and tilled naked to allow the prairie-made soil to blow away in the wind and wash away in the rain.
One man tells me there is a scrap of prairie out here somewhere, west of town maybe, or does it just sound romantic to say ‘west of town’ and it is really southeast? And I see a few prairie grasses in the ditches along the roads. Are they remnant plants of the long gone prairie or did the highway department plant them from seeds from Kansas or Utah? Does anyone know or care that those russet grasses still standing out there after months of blowing snow are little bluestem, one of the main prairie grasses of this area? Do they know that at one time, less than 2 centuries ago, this land was covered in an unbroken sea of little bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, big bluestem, northern dropseed, and a multitude of prairie flowers? Do they have any idea what such a thing would have looked like, with no trees except along creek banks, no buildings, no power lines, no roads? Just grass, vast flat endless grass.
No, there is no prairie here. This is not the prairie. At best, this can be called ‘the plains’. Until someone does something to bring back some substantial acreage of actual prairie, there ought to be a moratorium on the use of the word ‘prairie’ here. If I were less law abiding, I’d go out tonight in a black cape and a black mask and black armbands with a can of paint and spray black over every occurrence of the word ‘prairie’. If I lived here and was not just visiting, I would volunteer to plant some prairie somewhere. I hope someone who lives here is doing just that.
Update: As my pal Roland points out: "The prairie may have been sacrificed to Deere and McCormick and Monsanto and ADM but how would the Plain Laundry and Plain Ford and Plain Grocery sound? Much like Fox Run and Oak Village and Badger Creek subdivisions should be called Vinyl View now that the owls, foxes and badgers have been eradicated."
So I guess I should lighten up and be glad they are using 'Prairie' in the names as a point of pride. Perhaps use of the word will spark the curiousity of people who might learn more and might preserve what little bits remain and might replant a bit here and there or even a lot. Perhaps it already has!

Things I Relearned Today

You can't be in South Dakota trying to help your mother get back on her feet after surgery and in Illinois making sure your son eats breakfast and has a ride home from chess club after school. You have to trust one of them to take care of . . . himself.

We need people. Sometimes it's friends we need and sometimes it is strangers we have not yet met. But we need to ask for help in order to get help.

Once in a while you can do everything right and things still turn out horribly wrong. But the only chance of a turnaround is to keep asking.

A North Dakota Memory

I am sure I am making some of this up. But I remember standing at the cemetery in the summer, with people all around. The grass was golden brown, tall at the edges of the road. There was dust in the air that muted the headlights of the procession of cars still coming in. We were waiting to bury my grandmother. There were grasshoppers and it was too hot. It was quiet. Time seemed to be standing still. But someone’s children began to run, to dart around our legs, to call to each other, to laugh. Someone snapped “That’s inappropriate!” No, I thought, that is very appropriate. She loved them, she loved her children and her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. She let them make fizzies in the summer and mix soap suds in her old butter churn and grind crackers in the old meat grinder and roll cigarettes for her and play in her yard and pick her zinnias. Life goes on. The only appropriate thing to do at a cemetery in August while you wait for the line of cars to make their way in is to laugh, to run, to play, to feel the sun as warm and the breeze as cool, because life, well, life goes on. Life goes on.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday in South Dakota

It’s been cold here. Below zero for days and days. Winds that suck your breath away. And then, one day it is eight degrees above zero. We go out with our coats unbuttoned and smile at each other and comment on the warm and we are bonded as a people through our having survived the trial of the cold and having come out alive on the other side. And now, after a balmy day of actual thaw, it has turned bitter cold and defiant wind – and we sulk. We slam our doors and pull the blinds and close the curtains and think bitter thoughts.