Poetry of a Soft Day

Red Bud in full bloom outside my window on a soft day after the rain
The grass couldn’t be greener, luscious in soft rainfall. Budding leaves unfold in a spectrum of earth tones, ochre to wine.
I open my study window. Sniff, look, listen. Can’t peel my eyes from the Red Bud’s blossoms. How does Nature’s chemistry paint so many shades of pink into one little tree? Nothing like it in the entire world.
The Bradford Pear’s petals gather along the edge of the sidewalk. And look at the Bleeding Hearts below my window! Please, take your time to bloom, I say. Don’t hurry such sweetness of a gentle, spring day.
My senses carry me back to Uncle Mix’s front porch up on the hill in Kentucky, sheets of rain falling upon the verdant mountains of my birthplace. That’s where my cousins taught me to swing and sing, wait out the dousing hours until we could run and play again.
After dinner of a summer, Uncle Herm and Aunt Dean sat on their front porch in the bottom, watched cars go by up on the road and us kids turn cartwheels and run leg races below.  When I was grown and married, I’d sit with my aunt and uncle on the back porch of their new house and listen to rain fall upon the woods and Uncle Herm’s gardens. There, I first learned contentment and contemplation.
I’ve come to understand that’s why this land called my name at first sight. The rolling landscape and surrounding woodlands bear those childhood impressions of belonging. This land invites me to rest while I may, admire the beauty of rainfall.
Several years ago during our lavender harvest, I sat under the farm’s pavilion with my friend Martha, bundling lavender as a downpour waned to a sprinkle. A guest sauntered downhill and introduced herself, announced she was celebrating her retirement from the Detroit Public Library.
She inhaled the scented air. “I love a soft day like this. It reminds me of a poem.”
Lo and behold, she recited the verses.

A soft day, thank God!
A wind from the south
With honeyed mouth;
A scent of drenching leaves,
Briar and beech and lime,
White elder-flower and thyme,

And the soaking grass smells sweet,
Crushed by my two bare feet,
While the rain drips,
Drips, drips, drips from the eaves.

A soft day, thank God!
The hills wear a shroud
Of silver cloud;
The web the spider weaves
Is a glittering net;
The woodland path is wet,

And the soaking earth smells sweet
Under my two bare feet,
And the rains drips,
Drips, drips, drips from the leaves.

                  Dear Reader, Martha cross-stitched the poem for the retired librarian, and a replica for me. Martha passed this time last year, and I’ve lost touch with my farm visitor who loves a poetic, soft day. Yet, I have Winifred Letts’s poem, a gift from both, to praise such a day as this.   
I have Martha and Winifred beside me with my cousins, aunt, and Uncle Herm. We contemplate together the timeless colors of a soft day, its honeyed mouth from the south.

Romance of the Nesting Season

A male cardinal guards his mate's territory from our raised bed.

One confused cardinal moved into our pines this spring. Poor girl. She bobs from one branch to another, planning her attack before she pecks her reflection in the guest bedroom window.               
Each sunrise, my husband and I wake to her perched on the windowsill, striking the glass with her beak and wings. It would be amusing, even charming, if her instinct didn’t persist daylong, descend from upstairs to the dining room windows below.
In our long residence here, I’ve not been so concerned for a bird. I do hope her mate is nearby to help defend their territory. Her aggressive, protective behavior will eventually exhaust this little mother. If she doesn’t feed and rest, she’ll suffer malnutrition and disease, never build her nest. Then our cat, Mo, will sniff her out.
                  Oh, I regret the cardinal fights against her survival. She returns on Mother’s Day, evokes my empathy for her plight. She did not come by chance, I believe, but as an allegory of motherhood.
                  Longer without children in our household than within, I hear and understand the bird’s distress. Her urgency. With the average longevity of three years, the northern cardinal’s life is brief upon this earth, approximately twenty-seven years to our one, if we live to eighty.
Cardinals mate for life. The male stands guard while the female cardinal constructs two nests a year. Bears two broods. As other common backyard birds, the male feeds the female during the breeding phases of egg laying and incubation. Bird watchers call this conscientious care “pair bonding”. This may indicate what kind of provider the daddy will be to their offspring.
I think this male feeding is definitely a beneficial behavior for human parents to consider. Imagine the pair bonding if a husband fed ice cream to his wife while on her nest. Chocolate chip mint. Butter pecan. Lemon. A young man I met in the grocery store several weeks ago selected cinnamon ice cream.
“It’s the best I’ve ever tasted. My wife and I love it,” he exclaimed and raced to the checkout.
Dear Reader, imagine the pair bonding if human mothers reciprocated, fed their husbands ice cream. A returned kind gesture to nourish body and soul, build their house with durable materials. For every home needs an arsenal of advantages and defenders when raising our young.
Both cardinal parents feed their hatchlings for nine to eleven days before they fledge. In comparison, we feed our children approximately 6,570 days before they take their first flight. That’s a warehouse of food.
To remedy the cardinal’s dilemma, I closed our curtains on my dirty windows today. Hopefully, this will prevent her reflection and permit the fulfillment of her foraging and building instincts.
With opera glasses in hand, I’m on the lookout for her mate. Secretive builders, I hope to find their home, observe them beak-to-beak, and eventually count their babies’ open mouths.
I do love the romance and kinship of the nesting season. The cardinal was my mother’s favorite bird.

A Near and Dear Sisterhood

Yule Love It Lavender at its prime, July 2013, now under reclamation to native grasses
Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig. 
Marcus Aurelius

After growing up with four sisters, I found college sororities superfluous. Although Sally was congenial that day during spring rush, Greek life failed to interest me. My roommates, classmates, and fellow cheerleaders provided more than enough company.
Even so, they vacated campus for Christmas break 1968, unaware I slept in my dorm room, delirious with the Hong Kong flu. I have no memory of recovery and who drove me home, or my mother’s response when I walked through her door.
Perhaps this dangerous ordeal influenced a careful watch over my young children and led me to women I needed to befriend. A member in a Bible study group introduced me to La Leche League and Let’s Have Healthy Children by Adelle Davis.
Later, in 1977, a church elder substituted for Mom’s support when my youngest daughter underwent emergency surgery. Neighbor ladies washed my family’s laundry during my two-week bedside vigil, waiting for my infant’s blood to coagulate.
These trials culminated in a parent’s ultimate agony; the burial of our firstborn in 1996. Again, family and friends remained by my side, nearby and from a distance. The pitiless, long dark night of the soul severed some relationships, bonded others.
For God will not leave us comfortless in our trouble. From my natal sisterhood to life’s expanding spheres, God has provided a host of women who dug the fountain within me. Some spoke encouraging words; others helped build our lavender farm, and with a smile served wounded and needy hearts.
To these angels of mercy I am eternally grateful and beholden.
Amongst these associations, I have observed no common interest links a tribe of women as their love for digging the earth. Such it was Friday in answer to my call to begin the reclamation of an acre of lavender fields to native grasses.
Booted and gloved, three friends and I carried our shovels to one small portion of the farm. In soft rain, we labored together pulling staples from weed cloth, rolling up the heavy material, and loading it on the golf cart.
At last, we piled a monstrous mound of dirty ground cover at the roadside, removed our mud-smeared rain garments, and stepped indoors for a bowl of hot carrot, rhubarb, lentil soup.
To conclude our meal, we lifted steamy cups of Oolong Almond tea.
Kim took lead. “To the farm.” 
“To friendship,” Mary Ellen said.
Erna nodded. “To health.”
Speechless, this near and dear sisterhood summarized my sentiments.
Glad to see sunshine, feel its warmth on our face and backs, we unearthed perishing plants for the fire pit, the incense of worms and soil infusing the air.
Dear Reader, Sally’s on my mind, her smile and long, blond hair, our stroll across campus amongst budding trees. I hear the sound of her fountain bubbling up. I wonder if she’s another dear sister, waiting in another sphere of my life.   
                 


Pruning Lessons


A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all, it teaches entire trust. Gertrude Jekyll

“Mom, you need to prune the wisteria,” my youngest daughter said.
My husband shot me a glance where I stood at the kitchen counter dressing our salad. He had made the same astute observation before our family arrived for Easter brunch. They knew I knew the wisteria needed pruning. They also knew a knee injury slowed me down.
I spied the feral, tangled bines four feet deep atop the pergola, tempted to offer my daughter and husband pruning shears. “I know,” I said instead. We enjoyed our meal in peace.
Years ago, a Master Gardener warned me about wisteria seninses, that its woody grip and weight would eventually “bring down” the iron support. This member of the pea family, Fabaceaeis a high-maintenance girl and requires pruning from early spring through fall. Temperamental, you never know when a wisteria will bless its keeper with bloom.
Usually, Mother Nature is to blame. Her late April frosts more often than not wither our wisteria’s swelling buds to dust. I could cry when that happens. You must cover a budding plant with a lightweight cloth to protect it from ice crystals. That’s not going to happen here.  
                  One fine day in May 2013, I chanced to look upon the structure and promptly went giddy at masses of cone-shaped buds. My farm staff gathered to celebrate the occasion. Just what stars lined up in biodynamic synchronicity to produce such a show, we’ll never know.
                  One on the north and south side, the wisterias first bloomed May 2010, winding to span twenty-five feet of the arbor’s iron ribs. According to experts, the stems must grow horizontal for five years before they’re allowed to grow vertical and bloom.  
                  Some flowers transformed into slender, green seedpods that twisted when they dried and eventually burst open. The seeds rooted. Some roots grew the width of the pergola. Like a fairy tale, tendrils twined the legs of tables and chairs within the leafy tunnel.
                  Ideally, I should’ve hard pruned our plants after we stored the pergola’s furniture last September. Rather, I preserved my vegetable garden and harvested the grape arbor. In October, we flew to California for our grandson’s twelfth birthday. With so much life to live, the wisterias could wait.
                  They did, with vengeance. Methodically, from the lilac tree at the west end, to the oak at the east, I climbed a ladder and pulled vines from the trees’ branches; pruned dead and green wood that spiraled from thick trunks through the trellis. The piles of castaways made a fine, crackling fire.
                  Dear Reader, the oak and lilac tree breathe easily again. The wisteria sisters splay their new girlish figures. They won’t bloom this year for I sacrificed their fruit in pruning.
As Ms Jekyll learned, I shall be patient and watch carefully. Prune when able. I trust entirely Nature’s fickle habits.