Poison ivy, phone issues, a leaky sink, and tenacious weeds could have ruined my week. Lucky for me—life is bigger than bad moments, and free will is the true test of love.
There is an old oak tree that stands on the edge of our property, and every time I pass by, I offer a nod of respect and a prayer to the Maker of beauty and growing things. I’d noticed, of late, that several of the branches have died, reaching out like gnarly arms with not a stitch of clothing. Tracing the trunk with my gaze, I discovered that ivy vines had twirled around and were sucking the life from the ancient arboreal glory. So, I did the decent thing—got a pair of clippers and set it free from their death grip.
I didn’t notice any change at first. But the next day, the attacking vines on the tree drooped and the skin on my legs blistered.
AT&T kindly informed me with emails and text messages that they were doing upgrades, and my current phone was going out of business. Originally, I thought I had till 2022 to deal with the issue. Eons of time. Or not. Yesterday, I got a text message telling me exactly what disaster would happen (I’d only be able to dial 911 or 611—suggesting that from then on disasters would be my only option) if I didn’t switch to the new phone that they had sent me soon. I quickly set my tech-ready son to work.
Within the hour neither phone worked. I was Bilbo frantically patting his pockets for his ring!
Since it is summer, we have a garden. And lots of tasty things grow there. Including cucumbers. As wonderful as five cucumbers are, thirty-five can sit on the counter with an air of accusation: “What you gonna do now, eh?” So, I cleaned some canning jars, scrubbed the pot, added vinegar, water, and spices and tromped downstairs with visions of pickles dancing in my head.
Then I was hit with an atrocious stink. I looked around for a dead animal. Nope. Then I peered under the sink to the pipes I repaired last month.
There is a reason I have our plumber on speed dial.
The driveway and I have an agreement—the rocks stay put, and I drive cars over them. Unfortunately, no one told the weeds. Or they just aren’t listening. I have tried pathetic little weed killer spray bottles and got two-tenths of a millimeter cleared at a time. The other day, I saw a guy spraying his driveway with what looked like herbicidal big-guns. Normally, I avoid chemicals of all kinds. But enough is enough. I’ll need all-terrain drive soon to get into the garage if I don’t take action. So, I went to Rural King’s garden section and got a big bottle of something. I soon discovered that not all killers are the same. Helps to read the label.
My point? You’re very generous in reading this far in expectation that I have a point.
There happens to be medicine for poison ivy rash, and the itch goes away in time. The old oak will live another day and whispers thank you as I pass. My tech-magic kid calmed my racing heart when he got the new phone working, even transferring my contacts, thus the Earth continued to revolve around the sun. The plumber scheduled a date to fix the sink. I did get the cucumbers pickled, in case that was on your mind. For the driveway, I discovered the right tool for the job—a spray actually invented for the sole purpose of clearing out grass and weeds! And some people say that there aren’t miracles any more.
As I contemplated the reversals of the week—for good and evil—I realize once again, that freedom makes a big difference. In a true act of love, God gave me a will of my own. In a titled world of blisters, lost connections, broken pipes, and nefarious weeds, I get to choose how to handle each and every one.
And I’ve decided that my life is bigger—and better—than the bad moments.
Song, in her petite elven form, wearing a dark green tunic over grey leggings, strolled along the wooded glen, soft brown soil cushioning each step while pink blossoms waved in a gentle breeze. She stopped and breathed in the deliciously sweet scent of spring.
Butterflies sailed by as birds twittered from the branches: bluebirds, redhearts, and goldenhues. Even a pair of orangefires insisted on wishing her a good morning.
She smiled and bowed in the accustomed greeting between Bhuac and natures’ citizens.
A fierce greenhawk swooped in and, with its large bulky body, bristled, sending the gentler folk into a frightened frenzy. The joy-filled chirping turned to cawing and sharp screams of distress.
Her heart twisting, Song watched, helpless to alter the scene for though she ruled the planet, her influence in the wild only reached so far.
Pounding steps along the wooded path, turned her attention. A figure jogged forward, long black hair flowing over thin shoulders, clear eyes narrowed in concentration. A strong woman suffering from unaccustomed weakness.
Slapping her hand against her chest, the woman came to a skidding halt before Song, heaving deep to catch her breath. “They’re going back!”
Her heart clenched; Song froze. As if understanding the gravity of the moment, the feathered feud ceased, and silence descended. Only the sun continued to shine unabated. With a start, Song realized that she could not sense a thing. Even the ground under her feet had fallen away.
“Did you hear me?” The woman drew closer, her hand reaching, whether to awaken her mentor or grasp at needed strength, neither could guess.
Song nodded. “I heard.” She forced a calm smile. “It is good to see you again, Kelesta. Where is your husband and daughter?”
A darted glance at the sky and a facial spasm spoke louder than words. “They’ve gone too.” Her gaze fell. “Ark passed on and his son, Tarragon is taking his place.” She straightened her shoulders. “Teal is sick, and Sterling is…preoccupied. A Luxonian named Mauve has stolen his heart.” She sucked in a deep breath, readying herself for painful truth-telling. “Zuri wants to teach Nova about humanity’s true nature. Perhaps make room in her soul for—” Kelesta flapped her arms like a bird perched on the edge of flight. “Something.” She shrugged. “She certainly isn’t interested in me.”
Caught in a snare that had held her for much too long, Song wrapped her arm around the young Bauchi woman. “She loves you—she just doesn’t know it yet.”
With a muffled sob against the older woman’s shoulder, Kelesta gave way to tears. “She can’t love someone she doesn’t know. She refuses to even consider what Zuri and I offer.”
The sun, still on its ascent, shone bright from the clear golden sky. “Let’s return and have a morning cup with biscuits and honey-jam. You’ve come home just in time to help me face the coming storm. Humanity measures time in such small increments; they do not see the landscape of their days. They are about to undergo a momentous change, and they have no idea of the long-range repercussions.”
“But what about Zuri and Nova—and all the rest?”
Song took Kelesta’s hand and started down the path, her feet padding on the soft, springing soil. “They must learn too. It is what all the living must do or else die in stagnation.”
Kelesta brushed a low hanging branch out of her way, pink blossoms falling on the path, as she kept in step with Song. “But what if she learns the wrong lesson and refuses her father and me? What if we lose our daughter?”
Tears aching behind her eyes, Song looked to the trees and silently beckoned to the birds. Give me strength. “It is the highest praise of our creator to give us freedom.” She squeezed her friend’s hand as the birds burst into fresh song. “It is our trial to endure whatever they choose.”
Being the glorious season of scarlet leaves, burnt orange pumpkins, tawny grass, caterpillars seeking the perfect abode to wrap themselves in a snug cocoon for the winter, geese flying low honking encouragement to their fellow travelers, (Though conceivably, they could be telling the last in line, “Hurry up, Bub, or you’ll get left behind!”) and the annual apple harvest for the winter’s supply of apple sauce, apple juice, and apple pie, autumn gets a lot of attention.
Even the bees get excited, hurrying hither and yon, with the inner awareness that the summer supply of nectar is about to crash in a seasonal apocalypse. There literally is nothing left for bees to do but huddle up and survive the coming freeze of all that is good and holy in their universe.
Birds adapt with sensible charm. Some fly off, like the aforementioned geese, honking their goodbyes as if to taunt the fools below. They know cold and snow are coming without a clue that humans and their appointed pets and other citizens of the animal kingdom, including a few feathered friends, have adaptions at the ready.
Critters, flowers, twigs, and trees realize that the game’s up, and the world of sunshine and plenty is about to collapse. They do what they must to either die with dignity or huddle into a catatonic “I’ll come back when things are better” attitude.
I know perfectly well that my son is gunning the mower ready to take down the last of the straggly garden, the porch flowers bend in limp acquiescence to shorter, colder days, the pool must be drained and excused from duty for the next six months, and that fun shorts and t-shirts will soon to be ridiculously inappropriate, but, still, I’m pleased about the seasonal change of guard.
It’s not because I’m skipping pages in the Farmers Almanac, imagining next spring. It’s not because bundling on layers of clothes and scrunching up close to my bedroom heater in hopes of maintaining feeling in my fingers excites my survival instinct, or that a daily tussle between battling the north wind or staying indoors until I resemble one of Count Dracula’s wives amuses my inner drama queen.
It’s because I’ve been endowed with a fairy-like fancy—I love autumn. I enjoy the slow decay of grass stems, the crumbling of the garden’s glory, sweeping grey clouds hovering with a threat of rain, chilly mornings ordering me to tug on long pants and a heavy sweater, bracing myself with stinging cheeks against a biting frost, the perfect rhythmic reality of change involving loss and endurance.
I’ve never had a relationship’s springtime last more than a few months. At some point, a misunderstanding sneaks in like a cold wind, or a different opinion edges it’s way to the surface, crumbling the green garden of interpersonal contentment. Culturally, nationally, historically—anyway I want to view my world—spring and summer never last. God, in His wisdom, prepared a place in me not only to accept the inevitable challenge of change, loss, exasperation, and suffering but to welcome the fullness of the natural life cycle. To accept that which I cannot change through the grace of a soul in love with more than what the birds know, the bees expect, and the decaying plants offer.
I am content at the sight of scarlet leaves and a well-stocked woodpile. I know my own autumn days draw near, and that thought should haunt me. But it doesn’t. My soul rejoices in the spirit of endurance and the welcome dawn of each new day, no matter how cold winter might get.
True light, beauty, and the joy of life emanate from inside—making every season glorious.
Our sunflowers bloomed this week. As did the Rose of Sharon that has grown to a mammoth size and—with the help of the cherry tree—hides the electric pole from our gaze, putting beauty before utility. Literally.
A week of appointments, goodbyes, hellos, arrangements for a future that nobody can count on, and the usual daily-dos, made this an ordinary week in an extraordinary world.
There are so many clashes of opinions on and offline that any discussion often leads to an uneasy truce to agree to disagree. No one thinks exactly like me? Shocking, I know. Others take a different slant on current events? Unsettling in a world where actions matter.
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote magnificently about her childhood in her Little House books, and she also wrote a breathtakingly honest column about her life as a farmwife. Her wisdom is clearly won through hard years of challenges but also through the quiet voice of her mother, Caroline, who once commented—“Least said, soonest mended.”
That quote has been a touchstone of reality of late. Much like the garden soil, the swaying of the sunflowers as they turn toward the sun throughout the day, and the presence of a higher reality that pulls me from the frantic concerns of the modern world to a life of acceptance and love—no matter what.
I just finished reading Jimmy Stewart—A Biography by Marc Elliot. Stewart experienced up-close-and-personal, powerful realities—much like Laura Ingalls Wilder but from a Hollywood perspective.
In his case, the line from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life encapsulated his existence, “No man is a failure who has friends.”
In both their lives, it wasn’t so much that they had friends—but they were friends—with all of humanity. They crossed boundaries as the world broke through ceilings of knowledge, skills, and human understanding.
Sunflowers do not bloom only for the appreciative eye. The sun does not warm only the ready seed. Gentle breezes blow on young and old, frail, and strong alike. Storms do much the same.
When the time is right and the day cools a bit, I’ll water the garden. I’m enjoying the breeze and the blossoms at this moment, knowing full well that they won’t last. But without judging the perfection of blooms, the timing of breezes, the power of storms, I’ll find peace in whatever is good and beautiful.
I suspect that Caroline, Laura, and Jimmy would agree.
Of late, I’ve waged a war on carpenter bees, which seem heck-bent on burrowing holes throughout my porch to the point where I have to sweep sawdust off each morning. My attempts at repairing and staining only appear to alter their trajectory, not their aim. Little do they care how much time, money, and energy I’ve put into keeping this house standing.
So I bought carpenter bee traps. I hung the traps and discovered that apparently these flying critters aren’t just battling me—they are battling each other. And they’re battling wasps and flies. Which would be fantastic—if they weren’t turning my porch into kindling.
So I know that once I get the carpenter bees under control, some other bug will come along and fill their nefarious shoes. How ironic is that?
I turn from their incessant buzzing and focus on other winged critters. I love our birds. We have a larger variety this year than ever before. Indigo bunting made nests here, as have swallows, oriels, robins, redwing blackbirds, sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, and a host of other aves friends.
But guess what? They have their battles too. Eagles and hawks dart into ground nests, stealing eggs and hatchlings, vultures crowd around road-kill snipping and snapping, blackbirds chase sparrows from the bird feeder, hummingbirds flit in aeronautic genius, aiming their spear-like beaks at any competition for the nectar supply. And then there are the bird hunters—cats. My fluffy, plaintively-purring-beg-for-a-belly-scratch, quadrupeds turn into malicious bird-killers when I’m not looking.
To be honest, I can’t even count on the weather. I see black cloud mounting in the west, and I think it looks like rain. My 81-year-old-neighbor wrinkles her nose, looks about, and tells me, “Na, it’ll pass by.” She’s been right every time so far this summer. My kids advise me to forget the weather station and just ask Darlene the daily forecast.
When the human race gets me down, I turn to nature for rest and reprieve. But it’s a mixed bag-reality. Like everything else.
Honeybees pollinate, but boy they can sting if I get in their way. Carpenter bees burrow, but they chase away the hornets and flies. The birds chirp, waking me at an hour earlier than I really want to open my eyes, but their colors, air-dances, and musical abilities fill my soul with awe.
There isn’t any part of this earthly kingdom that doesn’t involve a battle—for the lives of nestlings, food supplies, homes, and even a little peace and quiet. The cicadas will start this summer—they could rival a jet engine when they’ve got a mind to.
If I were a beast, bug, or bird, I suppose I’d alternate between fear and fury most of the time. But lucky me—I get to be human. And I have the option of being humane.
When the worst of the human kingdom seems to out-battle the animal kingdom, I can stop and consider options. I can admire glorious majesty and deflect danger, repair damage, bury the dead, pray for peace, and soak in beauty.
I’ll head out to the garden now. God help me. There’s another whole kingdom just waiting…
Who knew that staring at the neighbor’s backyard, watching for signs of life could be considered nosey?
I wondered if the whole concept of “Mind your own business” was carried just a tad bit too far. After all, I hadn’t seen hide or hair of the old man for weeks. He could’ve been dead for all I knew.
He could’ve turned into something… Okay, that image stemmed from last night’s horror flick that my teen son had insisted wasn’t scary. It all depends on if scary meant I freaked out on the couch or simply spent the entire day picturing my eighty-something neighbor as an alien experiment.
“Can I help you?”
Oh, great. The son. He caught me red-handed…actually wide-eyed. I turned from the fence amazed that he had snuck up so close. Gravel roads usually gave people away. And where were my lousy dogs? I gazed around. Sure enough. Napping in the sun…probably didn’t even lift their heads as this veritable stranger strolled up the driveway.
I faced the fifty-something gentleman and smiled brightly, frantically thinking up a good lie. Unfortunately, my mouth tends to leave the station before my brain is finished giving instructions.
“I just wanted to see if Mr. Jacob is still alive.”
A low whistle.
Well, I hit the prize impression with that one. “I mean…I haven’t seen him for a while, and he’s been on my mind.”
“He’s fine.” The man’s eyes stared at me as if an interrogation room was being contemplated. Dang, but he’d have the whole alien experiment thing outta me before I could get properly tied to the chair.
So what now? The guy is standing between me and my back door. I could skirt around him, pretending that I’m just ambling toward my garden to pick— Heck it’s full of seedlings too young to touch and with my daughter’s ruthless war on weeds, there wasn’t even a stupid dandelion to hide behind.
He clasped his hands and continued to stare as if he wanted to talk. Probably not about aliens.
The only decent thing to do was stand there and take it. Yes. I’ve been nosy. I’d imagined gosh-awful possibilities all day until I just had to sneak over and see if poor Mr. Jacob could still walk…or crawl…around his place. And no, I wouldn’t appreciate it if someone else was watching me with an overloaded imagination ignited by horror movie scenes.
Thoroughly ashamed was I.
He cleared his throat. Always a good sign. It meant he’d like to tell me off but was holding himself back.
“Dad’s been off his feed for weeks. My sister is spent taking care of her daughter who broke her leg and has three little ones to corral. I’ve got to go out of town for the weekend, and I was just wondering if you’d keep an eye on him for a couple of days.”
My brain couldn’t back up fast enough. For a moment, I actually believe I lost the power of speech. Which is darn unusual for me. “Uh…well…sure…I’d…be happy…to.”
“Pa thinks he can manage everything himself. But you know, he watched some scary movie last night and thought you were coming to get him for some kind of alien abduction thing.” The guy actually laughed.
I could’ve wept in relief.
“Oh, how silly!” I grinned good-naturedly. After all, I am a decent human being. From planet Earth no less. Heck, I now imagined baking this man the nicest pie in creation—after I fed his dad a delicious non-alien dinner.
Funny how life goes. When I stopped by that first evening, Mr. Jacob backed up against the wall, apparently expecting my pie cutter to slice through more than crust, but when I unveiled the cherry pie, all was well.
Now I go to the fence nearly every day and stare until Mr. Jacob or his son comes out to chat. Occasionally I call ahead. But usually, they seem to just feel my presence. We meet up and talk. I might bring a pie. The son might bring a couple of beers. Mr. Jacob brings his smile.
I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that workrooms must be messy, hamsters have to escape from cages, and household pipes and wires simply can’t work in harmony for any great stretch of time.
Springtime means a general house cleaning. It also means the garden gets planted, chicks get hatched, and if there’s anything that needs to be stained or painted—brushes at the ready!
Ironically, it’s also one of the prettiest times of the year, when the outdoors beckon with blooms on the cherry, apple and peach trees, when I take off two layers of sweaters and move about without feeling like an unoiled robot. And my skin craves the warm touch of the sun.
Conflict happens in all seasons, but springtime really sets strong forces at odds. There is so much to be done, yet the heart yearns for the chair on the back porch.
Like a microcosm of the world at war with itself, I struggle to define who rules the roost of my soul. I swing from one ruler to the next. Like a dance, I listen to complaints about how the refrigerator door won’t stay shut, glare at it for a second as if warning of defrostings to come, and promptly make myself a cup of tea.
On a walk with my neighbor, I hear the latest and greatest world news, and then sit down to dinner with my kids and get a completely different take on that same reality. I agree with both, of course. Not because I am a coward, though I may be, but mostly because they each have something to say that informs me. “Huh. So you say…”
In a gush of I’ll-get-this-done-or-die-trying, this week I managed to clean out the freezer, tackled a computer problem that had vexed my soul, and wandered about the backyard saying hello to all the flowering trees. I read conflicting reports about human affairs. Apparently, we’re demons and saints and everything in between. We deserve hell but Heaven is our intended destiny. We’re on the verge of annihilation and inspiration.
So when I walked by the workroom and a hammer happened to slide to the floor, I wasn’t unduly disturbed. My eldest boy brought me an escape artist rodent in a mason jar—Henrietta looked a bit confused—but I knew what to do. If she’d chewed through the last cage, we’d build another. The deck will get stained and rain will water the garden. Bees will buzz by on their way to blossoms, and the pipe under the sink will leak until I get it fixed.