Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Happy Birthday, Mary!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The. Flattest. Place. On. Earth.

Monday, April 27, 2009

House Furnished

The place starts to feel more and more like home, and a significant step in that process was getting to spend the night in the "master bedroom". To this point, we had been folding out the sleeper sofa and sleeping like guests. The new beds are made out of left over wood and spindles from the stair and balcony posts and railings. Using the leftovers was not only a budget consideration, but it allows the furniture to blend right into the house. The "guest room" and the "master bedroom" will eventually be separated by movable cabinets so that the space will be flexible for a variety of guest situations. The foyer has a welcoming table where you can drop your shoes and bag and even plug your cell phone in if it has the same connector as mine. The dining room is complete, the living room needs only a coffee table which will probably be a revamped slate-top table from our first apartment, and the cozy spot under the stairs is ready for lounging with a good book. The canoe paddles are hanging by the back door, waiting for the rain to stop.

My Favorite Flower: Bloodroot

Why is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadense) my favorite flower? Just look at it! It GLOWS in the sunlight. Raindrops bead up on the petals and the leaves. Spring sees it emerge as a curled vertical tube of leaf. The flowers are brief; what a treat to find them before they are shot. This year, wind and rain battered and pelted them several times so they were at their peak for only a couple days. The flower is followed by a strange seed pod. Stems can appear orange from the orange sap. The leaves uncurl and flatten out to provide a pretty ground cover. The leaf surface is matt texture that looks fuzzy or waxy but is neither. If the summer turns dry, they die back and disappear underground until the next spring. My two patches that are near each other in the front yard display great deal of diversity such as happens in a open-pollinated seed-spread colony. Large flowers with petals in layers of 4 such that the flower appears almost square appear with others that have wider petals that form more of a round flower. There are 8 petaled flowers and 12 petaled flowers. The yellow center clearly shows the classic single female pistil in the very center surrounded by the pollen-carrying male stamens. So much beauty and so much botany right there!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Driving Back Home

Rolling along in afternoon traffic,
Heading home
In bright sunshine;
Think about the people there,
Smile about that.
Traffic jams up;
It's some idiot stalled
In the two lane construction zone
Blocking one lane,
Costing me and all these others
An extra half hour of life on this road.
Turn up the stereo until you can feel it.
Sing along, drum on the steering wheel.
Chew all the gum.
Eat all the snacks.
Fiddle with the radio.
Change the CD.
Scream at the guy when you finally pass him,
"Idiot, Moron, F#%*head, Teabag, Toadbrain!"
He can't hear you but it feels good to yell.
Moving along again
On cruise control.
Beat down the miles.
Call somebody on the cell phone.
Sun going down
Turning everything orange;
Turn on the headlights.
Turn up that song.
Eat up the miles.
Lights along the interstate
Make lines on the horizon,
Receding in perfect perspective.
Center line,
Shoulder line,
Steer in between.
Pound down the miles.
Stop for pop and to pee;
Repass all the cars you passed before.
Pick up speed
But not too much:
Don't need another ticket
Cuz I got one goin'.
Chew up the miles,
Heading on home.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shoes and Thanks

Ever see a lone shoe at the side of the road and wonder how it got there? Passenger riding with a foot out the window and the shoe blew off? Kids playing tricks on each other. Flushed out of airline toilets? Fallen off feet of riders of passing horses? Grown from a piece of lost shoelace? Well, I tried to abandon a pair once on Highway 1 just south of where it joins up with Highway 11 at the southern edge of North Dakota.
In high school advanced biology class, we dissected baby sharks. In between class sessions, we kept them suspended by a string in a drum of smelly liquid. Some of it would splash on the floor where you could not help but walk in it as you retrieved or stashed your eviscerated shark carcass. During this process, the gooey rubber of my trendy mid-70's wedge platform shoes absorbed the horrible dead sea life smell. It was gross, disgusting to carry that smell around with me all day every day.
One morning, leaving for school wearing snow boots, I set those shoes on top of the car to load other things, maybe my books or a gym bag, and it occurred to me that if I 'forgot' them up there . . . so I did.
I spent the day in glee that I had 'ditched' the nasty things . . . only to arrive home that afternoon to find that my dear uncle had seen them on the side of the road and rescued not one but both of them for me and taken them to the farm.
There was a nasty gouge in one of the trendy fashionable wedge heels and of course they still stank to high heaven, but my mother made me keep wearing them anyway. I hated those shoes. I bet they are still there in some dark corner of some closet in her house. They will never go away.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lost Feather Caught on Branch

A tiny found treasure whose beauty is dependent on the time and the place. To take it out of its brown world where the sun makes it glow in such contrast would just make it appear drab, yet in a couple weeks the emerging green leaves will distract from it or even hide it altogether.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Secret Meaning of "Enter" and "Exit"

Today, in honor of Earth Day, I am going to let you in on a little secret.
Certain words that you see on a regular basis have a secret hidden meaning. I am going to reveal it to you here.

You know how supermarket and drugstore and convenience store and department store and specialty store doors have the word "Exit" on the out door and the word "Enter" on the door you are supposed to go in? Also, you know how some doors to smaller shops say "Push" or "Pull"? You know what I mean, don't you? Close your eyes and I bet you can envision a specific door of a specific store right now. Go ahead, try it.

Well, this is what those words secretly mean: They mean "Go Back To Your Car For Your Reusable Bags!" So you should have a half dozen or so reusable bags in every one of your cars. Before you enter a store, just as routinely as you turn off your ignition and unbuckle your seat belt and make sure you have your wallet, you should grab the number of bags you think you will need plus one and take them with you. If you fail to do so, when you get to the first door you see and find one of those four code words, "Exit", "Enter", "Push", or "Pull", you should smugly remember that YOU know the secret meaning of those code words and go back to your car and get the bags.

If you have the bags and forget them in your car AND you fail to decode the secret hidden meaning of "Exit", "Enter", "Push", and "Pull", you should face the humility of your mistake and ask the clerk to allow you to put your stuff right back into the cart bagless and you should drive that cart to the car and stand in the parking lot and bag it into your neglected and forgotten reusable bags.

And after you unpack your reusable bags, you should remember to put them by the back door to grab on your way out to put into the car for reuse next time. Because this is also the secret meaning of the handle of your back door's door knob: "Remember to take your reusable bags to the car!"

I know, I am brilliant for decoding these secret meanings, and thank me if you must, but I would rather you just heed these secret codes and make the future earth a less plastic-litter-filled place. We need to get into the HABIT, people!


Solomon's Seal

In mature undisurbed woodlands, the rich layer of dead leaves decomposes to nourish dense colonies of plants. These woodlands are lush and thickly green in comparison to places that have been disturbed or allowed to be crowded by invasive species. When you see masses of groundcover like these, know you are in a special place.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Perfect Children

They let me teach Sunday School one year. It began innocently enough. The first weeks were spent mainly getting the kids used to letting mom or dad leave them there. I read them books of fun Bible stories from picture books and let them play with each other to develop social skills. Advent was nearing and I was determined that 'my' kids would know the story of Jesus's birth inside and out. I made construction paper puppets of Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus and shepherds and angels and innkeepers and kings and donkeys and sheep and a construction paper city street scape of inns and the barn and a construction paper manger and a construction paper star. Each week, we acted out the story with our puppets. Someone got to be Mary and someone got to be Joseph and we would go walking around outside until we were a little tired then we would go back in and knock on the innkeepers' doors until one let us use his barn. The baby Jesus was 'born' into the manger. The angels came to the shepherds over on a nearby table and they brought their sheep to the barn. The kings studied the star and followed it to the barn. We reenacted the story at least 3 times each Sunday, with kids playing many roles and changing roles each time and coaching each other thru the roles. It was rewarding to watch them pull their parents by the hand to see the puppets and to hear them tell new parts of the story that they had internalized that day. I am confident that 'my' kids did indeed know the Christmas story by the time the holiday rolled around!
After Christmas, I read them the happy stories about Jesus healing people and making more wine for the party and stopping the storm by walking on the water and teaching people and making that one fish and one loaf be enough for huge crowds of people. What fun we were having learning about Jesus!
But soon, Lent arrived and it was time to tell the kids that Jesus was going to be tortured and killed and then rise from the dead to redeem them from their sinfulness. I couldn't do it. I could not look those little kids in they eyes and tell them that this guy they had learned to love had to be cruelly killed because they were sinners that needed saving. I "lied" and told them bad people didn't like what Jesus was teaching so they killed him, but because he was God's son, he came back to life and that was what we celebrated on Easter.
I could not bear to tell them the 'for your sins' part. I just didn't believe it, so I could not teach it to them. Kids need confidence and competence, not shame and guilt!
I have read a great deal on brain science and evolution and psychology and sociology since then and this I have come to believe: Three year olds have no sins. People are not born sinful. People are born perfect. Jillions (scientifically speaking) of years of evolution made people able to adapt to conflicting needs by giving them conflicting desires and conflicting skills. We want to acquire goods and amass wealth because in times of scarcity, those that did that were the survivors. We want to help others and share with them because in times of plenty, that allowed more of us to survive and ensured the continuation of the species, keeping our gene pool richly diverse. So kids might give too much of their lunch away one day and steal the cookie from a friend the next, but that is not sin. That is just the skills and abilities that evolution gave us to keep us adaptable and survivable. And we should not be taught to feel guilty for those things, but rather taught to manage them for the best of our own health, the health and happiness of our family and our friends and our community. We have those conflicting wants and needs and abilities because we have evolved to be wonderful and perfect and we have the brains to learn to manage those wants and needs and abilities to be good and productive and kind and generous and all the things we value. Sin is a stupid concept and I won't teach any child ever that they are born sinful.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tiny Oak Leaves

Perfect miniatures burst forth and unfurl from thier buds and make the trees fuzzy again with tiny leaves. It is difficult for me in winter to remember that this will happen, to recall the scultural bare branches as they once were covered in green leaves, and some winters, I nearly lose hope. But then, suddenly, in a matter of a few days, the stark structure is obscured and softened by these tiny leaves, and just a few days later, the entire tree is again cloaked fully in green. Then, the joy I feel makes it difficult for me to imagine that tree bare, to remember the leaden mood that I had sunk to. The beauty and elegance of the green leaved trees shelter so much life for another summer.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Race and Gender

I am going to violate my own rule here. I try to change a story just enough to make sure no one for sure knows who it is about, but I can't think of a way to change this one enough that is still holds meaning for me. So here goes:
I knew an incredibly talented and creative gardener once. This gardener was a man. He was a black man. I met him because I did some work for a delightful woman in his neighborhood and admired her wildflowers, expressing my desire to specialize in native landscaping some day. She told me I simply must stop by his 'natural' garden and he would love to meet me and just tell him she sent me. She gave me directions.
I drove straight there, before I lost my nerve. He was not there, but his son was, who gave me his work phone number. I called from my cell phone before I lost my nerve. We talked gardening and plants and people and more for about an hour before we realized how much time had passed. There was a bit of an embarrassed sharing of mutual "My, I seem to have gone on a bit there's" before he invited me to stop in on a day he'd be there. I did follow through and he gave me a magnificently interesting tour.
Months later, I saw him at a craft sale, working the booth of a garden club of a nearby town. I asked if our town had a garden club. He said it had at one point, but it didn't have room for the likes of a gardener like him. I asked what he meant by that. He asked if I had ever been to a garden club meeting. I answered that I had only been to meetings of the Wild Ones, a group formed to promote natural landscaping. He told me that at the time he was getting into gardening, in the 70's, most of the ones he found, including the one in our town, were mainly women's social clubs, having room for neither a man, nor a black man. I was shocked. Surely not in our own town, did race and gender matter in a club formed around a hobby like that. He gave me one of his 'looks' and I let it go. I had other gardening friends in town and now and then we got together to shop for plants or to go on an excursion. I got the idea that there were enough of us to form a new garden club, one that would welcome all races and both genders and would certainly have room for my friend. I put some notices in the paper, picked a date, found a meeting room, and we started. I assumed my friend would have seen the notices and that he would be there. He was not. I knew some of the members knew him, so I was certain someone would mention it to him and he'd show up. Finally, after several months, it occurred to me that my friend was not going to come to the garden club I had started for him. I worked up my nerve and called him. I said "Did you know we have a garden club in town now?" He said "Yes, I read about that. Some people mentioned it to me too." I said "Why haven't you come? You should come. You know most of the people and they love you and your garden and we'd have a blast." He said "That club wouldn't have me once, so I am not joining it now. On principle." I argued "It's a NEW club and new people. It is NOT the club that would not have you." He refused. I was hurt and angry. But so was he. His was a longer, deeper, 'principled' kind of hurt. Could I fault him for holding a grudge, even if it was misplaced?
The club ran along smoothly for a few years, they having made me president and me having recruited really good officers like a program chair who found speakers and a press secretary who got the information from the program chair and got notices in the newspaper and a secretary who made sure both did their jobs on time. Then one summer, we went to members' gardens for our programs and after touring the garden of a resourceful and inventive and interesting member of the club, we went inside for refreshments. I was astonished to find there was a Confederate flag, a very large one, on the sloped ceiling of his living room. He and his brother collected Confederate memorabilia and were Confederate history buffs. Someone asked me when he was out of the room, "Doesn't that mean he is racist?" I seriously doubted it, but I also seriously doubted that he understood that most people saw it that way. And I was pretty sure the friend for whom I had started the club would see it that way.
A few months later, the man whose garden we had toured volunteered to take over from me as president, and it would not have looked right for me to refuse. He never got around to calling another meeting. The club ceased to be. I let it go, planning on re-rallying the club after a while. I got busy. It never happened.
The garden club I started, motivated by wanting to make a place for my black friend, died in the hands of another member who displays a Confederate flag proudly. All parts of this are things I will never quite understand, and my failure to make my friend feel comfortable in our club and the demise of the club rank high on my list of personal failures.

Trailside Trillium

As much as I love the prairie, I must confess to a special fondness for woodland wildflowers. They are among the first plants to flower, making a showing before the leaves of the trees overhead come out to shade them, and they are ephemeral, only lasting for a few weeks or even only a few days. To catch them in sequence and to catch each at their peak demands that you get out there and walk your favorite trails at least a couple times every week, and that you keep your eyes open for the latest changes. Wildflower springtime is a series of ever more beautiful surprises of delicate yet glowing light as it reflects off the crystalline petals. Get down close to them, so that you can see the grains of pollen. Don't be afraid to touch their jeweled coolness. Enjoy the fragrances of the musky decomposing leaves. Listen for the peeping of frogs, the buzzing of insect, the calls of birds. Spring wildflowers mean that the season is fully upon us and summer cannot be long away.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I had a client once who was incredibly mean. It was in my first year of business as a landscape designer and I took a job doing physical labor for a woman who had a large property that she was trying to naturalize. It was an opportunity to learn more about native landscaping so I would bluff and stall when she asked me questions I was not ready to handle yet, then come home to my office and look up the answers and propose ideas the next day. I would try to anticipate what she might ask next and read about that too, sometimes pretty successfully.
She had a wooded lot with a great deal of invasive understory that needed to be removed and chemically treated to keep it from growing back. She had a good canopy of native trees with a few non-natives that I identified for her to have a tree service remove. I gave her lists of natives and non-native problem trees and taught her tips for telling them apart. She had a pretty good ground cover of native wildflower plants, but they were in little patches here and there, so I proposed that we 'sort' them, digging up some and moving them near others of the same kind to create larger 'islands' of the same kind of plant, much like an a mature woodland where plants have been spreading on their own for decades. This gave the yard a more 'organized' and 'designed' look, making it appear less 'wild'. This was exactly the effect she was hoping to achieve, but hadn't known what was 'wrong' to know how to fix it. She complained and criticized about details and seemed cantankerous and bitter. But she kept having me back, kept asking more questions and moving into working on new areas.
After many weeks of working two or three days a week for her, she declared that was enough work for the season, so I tallied up the hours and dropped off a bill for her. She sent me a check, short by a couple hundred dollars, and a note criticizing my work. I was hurt, offended, stunned, for although she did complain pretty frequently, she had kept having me back, which one would take as a sign of overall approval.
Years later, I saw her at a folk music concert and her companion started a conversation with my kids, so I was forced to chat with them. She seemed not to recognize me. She was nice enough to me and to my children. I was bothered by the situation. I had to admit that I was still hurt and angry, but it was only harming me. I had to give it up.
A few weeks later, I worked up the nerve to call her. I introduced myself and asked if she remembered that I worked with her in her yard a few years back. Oh, yes, she said, and she went on to say how much she appreciated my work and my advice and my help and how she had continued to use my ideas and my methods and the resources I had left with her to keep the property natural. She seemed genuinely glad for having worked with me, and seemed to be harboring no grudges. I was not going to bring anything up, and so I let it be. I figure she must have been having financial difficulties as the time, and was too embarrassed to admit it, but had to have some reason to not pay me the entire amount. It felt good to let it go. It feels good to be able to have pleasant memories of the work and the much later phone conversation. It feels good to be able to count it as a success, not a failure.
I have shared this story with a few people, and some have said, "Oh, I can't believe you didn't tell her off when you had her on the phone!" But she did not seem to even remember having had an issue with me, so what would have been the point? We ended the conversation appreciating each other, she telling me she learned from me and me thanking her for the opportunity to work on her property so many years ago.
I think I should remember that story myself a little more, and let things go, forgive, forget, find the good in the stories and let go the bad. Yeah, that's what I am going to do!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Soon Green Will Return

Yes, soon, the earth will again be this verdant! This was mid May of 2008, a bit less than a year ago! Soon!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Eight Kinds of Friends Postnote

If you have been reading for the last 9 days, you got an introduction to my ideas about the eight kinds of friends, then day by day, a little more detail on the ways each of them make your life better. Remember that just as there are specialists in life that do only one thing and that one thing really well, there are also generalists who do a number of different things at a time at a higher level. So these friendship types are the specialists. In reality, each of your friends is a little bit of this and a little bit of that and quite a lot of another thing. There probably are overlaps and duplicates! Now that you have spent a little time thinking about how there are different kinds of friends and how each friend fills a unique set of needs for you, I hope that you will be both more appreciative of the value of each friend and also a little more forgiving of each friend for not being everything all the time. I hope you have seen that some of the ways that friends help us are indeed contradictory and that not one friend can be all things all the time. I hope that you see that your often changing and sometimes conflicting needs demand some wisdom on your part in choosing which friend you seek out for each situation. I hope my ideas here will help you see your friends for the value and enrichment they bring to your life. And I hope you will realize that each friend can only do so much and it is up to you to find and bring out the best in your friends just like they do in you! We are all in this together, we need each other, and together, we can make wonderful things happen!