August

 

August has been sweltering with the evenings so hot and humid it makes you wonder how people survived back in the day without air conditioning or even electricity for a fan. With no breeze to shed a little mercy and so calm and still that the candle on the back porch stands straight up without a flicker with its only threat to being snuffed out is the humidity. I imagine that the people who pioneered to California didn’t really go there for the gold; they went there to go to the beach and wear swimming suits and flip-flops. Gold was just a secondary motivation that they hoped would pay for their trip once they got there.

August is the month that puts an end to whatever ambition you may have had to keep the garden weeded or to finally paint the trim around the eves or straighten up that mailbox post. August is the month when we let things go. We’re tired now and an afternoon nap in front of the fan seems like good common sense. Just one more reason this letter is late in getting out.

Once I was proud of my garden and now I don’t care. It’s kind of like turning old. Youth is proud, vain and full of ambition then August arrives and saps you of strength and zeal. The weeds grow in the garden now like hair in an old mans ears; he doesn’t care anymore and neither do I.

I putter around my tomatoes and peppers, picking here and there while watermelon spreads through the tall grass and weeds. It’s about time to plant lettuce for the cool weather soon to come.

September is waiting just next door with its melancholy breezes to break the siege of heat.

This summer has been full of visitors and we have done more floating, been to more BBQ’s, and did more sight seeing than the previous two years put together.

It has been two and a half years since we have arrived here and we have finally made the transition to this being home. It’s not just home because our TV sits in the corner, it’s home because it feels like home. With all of the loving hearts that have passed through our door, their blessing adds to the whole. These walls have heard the voices of almost everybody that matters most to us and it’s as though they too become a part of this house, our home.

We were told that it would take about two years to feel at home here and that’s been about right.

Soon September will tell us when to hang up the Kayaks and deflate the tubes. Soon it will be hard to imagine it was still light out after 8:30 in the evening and that we wore shorts everyday. Soon the river will get quiet and the only people we will see are the people we know.

August has promised me two more watermelons and an Indian summer in September could put them on my table, I think I’ll wait it out. 

Published in: on September 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm  Comments (3)  

July

July sings summers high note and the festival of green and living things makes me glad for every created morning I awake to. There is nothing that doesn’t breath life in all I see. Looking out my back door to our meadow there is no line between what I see now to what one would have seen a thousand years ago, it is an unbroken circle. And here we are for but a moment, we visit.

Our rooster is starting to crow so with him beginning to come of age means the hens won’t be far behind in laying eggs. Although our rooster knows all the lyrics to his song, he just hasn’t learned to sing from his diaphragm yet so his crow lacks bravado. However, from time to time I can hear him having his way with one of the hens so I know he’s growing into his place as alpha chicken. In time he’ll learn to strut as he continues to find happiness in the chicken yard.

Last week in the afternoon I came upon the chickens terrified and huddled in the corner of their pen with a freshly killed hen lying just to the other side. A Red-Tail Hawk had come down suddenly and tore her to pieces then had her for lunch right in front of all her friends. It wasn’t until the evening that the flock made it’s way back to the chicken coop and in the morning they were still reluctant to come out. None chose to talk about the grizzly scene they had witnessed the day before and it wasn’t until the afternoon that they seemed back to normal.  A 24 hour turn around is not bad though, I wish I was able to get over some of my life’s traumas that quickly. Then again I suppose I would have to walk around with the brain the size of a marble to do so.

I have a 5-gallon bucket of Cherokee black beans I need to hull and my hot peppers are loaded and promising more. The cantaloupes are coming in with the watermelon still trailing and will probably do so until the end of August. We put up the garlic and onions and I’ll have more onions ready by fall. Of course tomatoes and squash, but best of all this year is my corn. 6 looong rows in all, I planted the rows 2 at a time, 3 weeks apart, 3 seeds per hole, so now we have fresh corn coming in through September.

Freshly picked sweet corn is a staple on the table right now and if it were up to me, I would have corn with everything including spaghetti, ice cream and peanut butter sandwiches. I’ll often pick a few ears and have them for lunch. That’s it, just sweet, sweet corn on the cob with melted butter and a little salt. There’s nothing more summer time and nothing more American than corn on the cob! It even predated the pilgrims from one side of this continent to the other. My corn stands proud at 7 feet tall and looms right over the green beans from hell. Green beans, the thorn in my side, the fly in the ointment, the salt in the wound, the Borg to the Starship Enterprise, but I suppose every story needs its nemesis.

The latest heat spell broke last night with some rain and we awoke this morning to a crisp blue sky as fresh and clean as sheets pulled off the line. We did some gardening chores early and I could tell the heat wasn’t going to hang over us like a bad omen as it had been but would be just about right. My morning walk was quiet and reverent; I spoke briefly to a neighbor on his way to church and then I went to the ridge and took in the view of the Ozark Mountains looking west toward our former home. I thought it might be good for me to take a swim in the mill pond down at the river this afternoon, I’ll wish I had come winter. In the evenings the frogs croak in concert, the Cicadas buzz and drone, and you can still see a few fireflies dancing in search of a mate. Inside me there is a song that plays a melody and its name is July.

Published in: on August 1, 2010 at 5:05 am  Comments (2)  

The Dog Days of June

June has been unseasonably hot and humid which brought on the lazy days of summer sooner than we were prepared for. The air conditioner has been kicking on earlier in the mornings and staying on later in the night. The weather has taken us down to the river regularly to cool off where we have spent a good deal of time floating in tubes and kayaking.

Humidity comes but never stays since we are not in the Deep South but instead we ride the line being just inside the Mid West boundary, not Confederate sons but not really Yankees either.

The first week in June my wife, daughter and I rose early and went to the blueberry farm just down the road. We ended up picking 3 gallons full which usually takes a couple hours to get the job done because with every 2 handfuls going into the bucket, there is a handful going in the mouth. The next morning’s results of this yearly pilgrimage are never spoken of outside the home. 

In the summer months we hang our laundry out on the line to dry where the energy is free. It is a meditation and get away that only resembles work. I stand surrounded by trees breathing in the breeze, puffy white clouds hanging on the horizon and that amazing blue sky that is so striking it encourages me that America will remain home for generations to come. I reach down into the basket, pull out a bundle of damp clothing and shake it out. Then with both hands on each corner I give it a sharp snap to take out most of the wrinkles. After hanging them on the line, the breeze will remove the rest…. Good enough for jeans and t-shirts anyway.

The Chickens are staying cool under the large Walnut tree in their pen not wanting to venture out in the heat to scavenge in the yard. They will come out and work the lawn for bugs just before evening, then I’ll call them in with a, “Hey guys!” and they come running from all directions, my armless children follow me into the chicken coop where I give them a bowl of grain and put them to bed for the night. In the morning I will let them out on the dewy lawn to start it all over again.

Because there has been no rain in over 2 weeks, I’ve been out in the garden early every morning in shorts, flops and a wide brim hat watering with my thumb on the hose. My corn will be as high as an elephant’s eye in July with tassels throwing their dust every time I hit a stock with a stream of water. Melons are forming and the tomatoes are beginning to come in regularly. The Cherokee beans are crawling up the poles and we are starting to put up the garlic I planted last fall. The bush green beans that I’m already sick of need to be picked every other day. I don’t gag on them at the dinner table (I’m 53 for crying out loud) but I eat them as quickly as possible to get it over with. Corn will be on the table this American July and the cantaloupe and watermelon will soon follow.

Here is where BBQing got its reputation as Americas summer past time that linked it to family, friends, horseshoes and baseball. It’s even more of a pass time here than in CA and maybe it’s because folks here have them out in the open and not tucked away and hidden behind a house and fence. We get invited to more than we can attend and I wish I could go to them all where the cooking is good and the laughter is hardy.

This coming 4th of July we’ll be down by the lake for a dazzling show of fireworks put on by the neighborhood folks whose BBQ we’re attending. These are not the street level displays we were used to, these are shoot um up in the sky and explode in a star spangled 150 foot diameter along with Roman Candles that can shoot a fireball into the front living room window and set the curtains on fire.  Yet these are fireworks you can buy anywhere around here, at any age, to anyone who can put the money down on the barrelhead. There is a trust here that allows you to walk away with arms full of deadly explosives, and you’re automatically expected to be smart enough to not look into the firing end of a skyrocket and if you do, there is a trust that you won’t ever do it again.

So as June ends, the real beginning of summer is just beginning and all life celebrates its arrival. This early heat makes it hard to get much done around here but at least by the end of summer there will be no regrets that we didn’t get enough floating in.

Have a great summer!

Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 8:20 am  Comments (4)  

A Tornado Tale

April ended with a common garden-variety tornado that danced its way through the better part of our county. When my weather radio (standard for the Midwest) alarm went off, I turned on the television to see what the radar picture would show. I’m a visual learner. The weatherman was giving me about 8 to 10 minutes to get my life in order. We don’t have a basement or a storm shelter. We just have a small bathroom in the back of the house where we rely on the tight construction to hold together and keep us safe to see another day. Actually, I was hoping we might get a little bump that would take off the roof so I could have it replaced with a new lifetime metal roof.  From the television it didn’t look like it was heading dead-on straight at us but it was close enough and the way they can bounce around, too close. I took up our 2 cats and a few things I didn’t want taken to the next county and stored them in the back bathroom. I then went out on the front porch and looked westward through the trees along our ridge, it was pitch black. The blackness moved northeast towards the end of our neighborhood and while it was taking out a neighbor’s house I could hear what sounded like a jet engine with the pilot’s foot all the way down on the gas pedal. It then continued to the next little town where it tore things up even more.

Now this tornado was said to have only been an EF-0 to an EF-1, not very big and certainly not anything that would get cast in a movie. But there it was, it completely demolished a house and took roofs off of others as it hiked through the hills leaving a path not unlike Godzilla.

I now have a newfound respect for what these “little” tornados can do. Yet in the back of my mind, I never thought I was so special that I could get a tornado right at my front door any more than believing Ed McMann would show up holding balloons and a Publisher Clearing House check, but I suppose it can happen. Nevertheless, I want to keep my perspective of doubt because it gives me a calm that is useful in times of extreme.

A while back I asked an old-timer what I should do in event of a tornado and no shelter. He told me to get in the bathtub and pull my wife on top of me and I should be OK. Well, that would have been fine if my wife were home but she was in CA missing all the fun just like she was during the historic ice storm of Feb. 09. So I figured if it looked real grim, I would go into the bathroom, shove my arm down the toilet all the way to my elbow and hang on. Then the worst that could happen would be my legs pulled skyward and my shoes and socks taken. Then if I continued to hang on, I would get my new metal roof…. Heck yeah, and a new pair of shoes too! 

Published in: on May 16, 2010 at 6:11 am  Comments (11)  

April 2010

Winter is officially a thing of the past and the pay-off for enduring its siege is an explosion of green and active wildlife in surround sound. The sky is never bluer than when it’s a canopy behind green trees.

With green trees come green grass and the beginning of America’s summer pastime, cutting the lawn. In California it is the men who dominate this sport but here in the Ozarks, women get riding lawnmowers for their birthdays and anniversaries. I even suspect that they receive their first one upon graduating high school. But these are sturdy Mid-western women and you couldn’t expect anything less. After they’re done cutting the lawn, they’ll have dinner ready before their husbands return home from fishing.

Last week with the help of my daughter, we planted our 60’x50’garden. I was able to get a hold of some heirloom black beans that came from the Cherokee Indians who carried them to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  Since they’re heirloom, I’ll be able to save some of the seeds for next year’s planting. Our garden is still an ongoing experiment each year of what to plant and how much. I do know that green beans are no longer taking up prime growing space; I knocked those back to two small rows. I believe I ate one too many last year and they have never regained my complete affection. Too many more and I might have to add them to my personal terrorist list along with cauliflower, lima beans and brussels sprout. And to think I threatened my lovely little granddaughter with, “No dessert until you finish your green beans”. I should turn myself in. I’m so ashamed. I’ve made a larger commitment to melons this year with seven different varieties in all. I have also expanded my pepper plot to seven different varieties. Along with twenty-three tomato plants I started from seed we will advance our salsa making skills to another level to what a friend calls, “Making a batch of skid marks”.

As I write this, I’m keeping one eye out the window to my back pasture that I set on fire this morning to try and burn off the last of the undergrowth. I had to take advantage while the wind is in the right direction so it doesn’t go over to my neighbor’s property. With all the rains we’ve had things are still a bit wet and even with the wind today, it’s burning slowly where a rake and a boot sole is all that’s needed to keep it under control. Nevertheless, I’m watching it so it doesn’t get into my trees and create a story I don’t want to tell. I’ve come to like fire since living here and I have so much fun with it that I don’t think California would ever allow me to move back. Fire is a freedom that’s here for the making. It’s another one of those things you can do here and no one will walk up and say, “Hey, you can’t do that!”

My wife is in California right now helping out with our new grandbaby and is also enjoying some shopping while there. We don’t have the variety of stores to buy “stuff” like back in California and that was hard to get used to at first. To get a better variety we have to drive two hours into Springfield. Yet we have to make the drive worth it and not go all that way for just one pair of shoes. Nonetheless, a small price to pay for so much in return.

The seduction of convenience keeps most people in the city and its surrounding areas right where they are. Believing that they can’t live without it keeps them from straying too far from the spigot. I have to admit though, there are brief moments when I want to transport myself to a Barnes and Noble to get a Starbucks and read their magazines. Afterwards I’d stroll the mall and do some people watching. Except for the traffic, too many people, crime, high taxes, bright lights, noise, the smell, billboards, racial tension, concrete and buildings everywhere, I kind of like the city.

Our little town has a gas station/convenience store that also serves up a great breakfast where you can go and get to know and be known; a post office with the greatest personal service anywhere and a volunteer fire department that may or may not show up in time – though I’m told they boast that they’ve never lost a foundation yet. We also have a park along the lake where you can camp, fish or canoe. Most could not live with so little but that’s why most aren’t here and things remain pretty much the same…. Simple.

I mailed some bills out last week and didn’t realize one was without a stamp and that one needed to be on time. We couldn’t afford to wait until it came back to us so I stopped by the post office to try and head it off before it left town. Come to find out, our mail carrier makes a drop at another post office miles away so our letter wasn’t coming back. Our Postmaster Kim said not to worry and got on the phone to that other post office and told them to keep an eye out for my letter. She told them when they find it to put a stamp on it and send it on its way and that she would pay them back the next day. Two years after arriving here I’m still being surprised by the thoughtfulness of these people.

The fireflies are starting to reappear, the whippoorwill sing in the evenings. I see box turtles crossing my way while on walks in the morning. We have no curbs lining the road. Here we have wildflowers. 

Published in: on May 1, 2010 at 12:50 am  Comments (6)  

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 7:52 am  Comments (1)  

March 2010

Coming to the end of March we are fast approaching our second anniversary of when we first arrived here in the Ozarks from California. After two and a half years of preparation we had finally packed up the last of our belongings and compressed them into a trailer. Passing around hugs we said goodbye to our friends that saw us off. That was one of the most difficult things because friends are an investment of the soul and it’s sad to turn out the light and shut the door to a room once filled with laughter, food and good conversation.
Yet I’ll never forget the excitement of shaking the dust off our feet from a town that already had its best days before we arrived there 30 years ago. Children born and children raised, then children leave and create a void you never expected. Our kids said they would never move back to our dusty desert town so I don’t understand why they were so surprised to see mom and dad pull up stakes and move half way across the country. I kind of thought our move spoke in agreement to all their complaints they ever had about that town. We were the ones who ran away from home this time and it sort of left them in shock.
Starting down the road on that sunny day with our past in the rearview mirror was exciting. Looking ahead on the open road was youthful, hopeful and full of adventure.
We arrived here when the Red Bud trees were starting to bloom and with the Dogwoods soon to follow. The heavy spring rains had ended one week before and the promise of warmer days lie ahead. The long wait to get here vanished like a dream against the morning sun. Time is like that, when you’re moving toward something you can measure the time with anticipation, but when it finally arrives all that time collapses into memory and can no longer be laid out in a line that you can feel anymore.
But that last stretch of road we drove before we pulled into our driveway is still there inch-by-inch and I remember everything about it. The green trees stretched out over the road, meeting in the middle creating a tunnel for passage. Squirrels bounced back and forth across the road while flashes of bright red flew by with Cardinal wings. Spring had arrived with us and that celebration was married to our own joy and gratitude of being allowed to live in such a place as this.
The description of nature is almost overwhelming to describe with so many varieties of birds, animals, plants and trees it’s useless to strain words into pictures when there are books already written. Living here is like camping except we brought all our belongings with us. I suppose I could find some old tires to lean up against the two front corners of the house to make it seem like we parked an RV in the middle of the forest and it wouldn’t be far from the truth.
The quiet is reverent and during a typical summer day we may get 10 to 12 cars go by, in the winter, 5 or 6. When we take walks down to the river and back which is a 2-mile round trip, we rarely have a car pass by.
There is a campground down at the river and during the summer people from the city go there to get away from it all. Yet, here we are – we live here – all the time – away from it all.
This was once the home to the Osage Indians who lived their daily lives acknowledging and giving thanks to the Great Spirit for this place. On three sides of us within a mile each way are sites of what were large Indian villages. Arrowheads are still found in abundance on these sites and the Indians used to hunt the hills round about. I know by the lay of my land that it is good hunting and I’m sure they knew it like the back of their hand. Sometimes I’ll be on my porch sitting with my imagination hoping if I try real hard I’ll be able to see back in time and catch a glimpse of an Indian walking across our meadow or sitting along the ridge taking in the commanding view, another gift from the Great Spirit.
So here we are in such a place and time as this and one day we too will be only a whisper in the winds to those coming after.
It stirs my spirit to be a part of that same progression of humanity through time.
Even in this time of trouble in our country I find comfort reading the history of those who have gone through hardship as well and came out on the other side.
Through all the worries, tears and loss, one way or another it worked out and they finished their life’s journey.
So I am encouraged to resist the temptation to insulate myself from life so that I might arrive at death safely.
Cashing out of everything and moving here was a bold move at the age of 50. Leaving behind a thriving business and no retirement package for a safety net, we were warned by a few and I’m sure thought of as foolish by some. But by the end of our first year when the market crashed and those doomsayers were left standing in their “safe zone” having lost their jobs, homes and more I guess it sort of proves my point.
There are times of great difficulty and there are times of great triumph, we are here to live them all. You just have to show up for it without expectations because it will never turn out as you planned, yet in one way or another, whether painful or pleasant, it does work out and we finish our journey too.
Then one day links to another, turns into a week, then months go by and another year ends where it began. You add a notch on a tree to mark the anniversary and say a prayer of thanksgiving.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 7:35 am  Comments (1)  

Where it started

There are three influential books that I read in the years of my late teens and early twenties.

The Bible being the first whose voices sang in concert to me that there is a God and He is actively participating in the lives He created. I learned too that the Bible, a series of stories of men and women who encountered this God is a book that has not ended in its writing but is continuing to be written with each life being lived that recognizes its creation in relation to its Creator. Until time finally folds up and is absorbed into eternity, Gods story continues to be written and we are co-Authors in the creation of that story. It is the most amazing!

The second is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I read Walden at 19 years old and it wasn’t until I recently picked it off my bookshelf again that I realized just how much it had influenced my life. Henry gave me permission to march to a different drumbeat and that living simply was not a license to be lazy but an admonition to be thoughtful and to live deliberately. It was the call to live fully present and in the moment, to suck out all the marrow of life so that when I came to die, I would not then discover that I had never lived.

The third was Dee Brown’s book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. Possibly the saddest book I have ever read, it broke my heart to which I have never recovered. It shaped my view of both my country and myself. It taught me how unbridled ambition is never a virtue even when dressed up with slogans like, “Manifest Destiny” to justify murder and robbery or “Fighting for the Freedom and Democracy of the American People” when what it really wants is oil. Dee Browns book gave me a lens I have used throughout my life. It grabbed my lapel and got in my face. It taught me to not blindly accept what I’m told but to question what goes on behind the curtain. Governments come and go but “We The People” will always remain.

Throughout the years there have been many other voices that have spoken into my life. But these first three I think are the most important because they were there when I was awakening into my adulthood. I carried them in my backpack as I hiked through the mountains and sat by streams. Their thoughts were in my thoughts as I rode the city bus. They caused me to wonder and think and they were there when I first put pen to paper.
Thank you Dee. Thank you Henry, Thank you God.

Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 11:23 am  Comments (10)