UPON OPENING THE FRONT DOOR

UPON OPENING THE FRONT DOOR

 

“The flowers appear on the earth

The time for singing has come!”—Song of Songs 2:12

 

May has been the month of departures and new arrivals up our front sidewalk. This flurry of activity similar to the hustle-bustle of an airport gateway has given us a reason to open the front door every morning. Instead of ringing our doorbell, the flowers wait to surprise us. They don’t say good-bye, either, but leave quietly, fading into the soil, homeward bound.

Desiccated leaves and stalks are all that’s left aboveground of the red and yellow tulips opening wide as they die, displaying stamens. The daffodils have turned into elongated heads at the end of their stalks. Their leaves, losing chlorophyll, yellow and droop over the short fence as they feed the bulbs.

One Friday night the irises were still pointy buds the shape of miniature mummies, tightly wrapped in parchment sarcophoguses. The next Saturday morning when we opened the front door, there they were, royal purple, pale lavender, and yellow blossoms fluttering in the breeze, triangular centers blazing their arrival. Their delicate fragrance scented the morning breeze.

Just as the iris flowers withered, the pink and maroon peonies transformed from shy, corseted buds into puffy petticoats of scent, buffeted by the breeze.

Day before yesterday, at the opening of the door, I spied two lily flowers, with sisters on down each stem ready to join us soon, splashing their scarlet finery. The rest of the lilies in the flowerbed will arrive at any moment.

Behind them are the lavender, now setting on their flowers, and the penstemon, gearing up for five-stamen production.

Today the jasmine climbing the trellis by the front door broke into tiny trumpet-shaped blooms, releasing its signature perfume.

These flowers feel like family members who hug when they say hello, or the old-time Welcome Wagon, bearing a cheeriness that ushers us from where we’ve been to where we’re going, from the short days of rain-filled spring into the charms of sunny (and sometimes still rain-filled) summer, harbingers of Nature’s beauty yet to come. All we have to do is open the front door.

 thumb_IMG_7270_1024

THE FIRST IRISES

 

Friday night the irises were still pointy buds the shape of miniature mummies, tightly wrapped in parchment sarcophoguses. Saturday morning when we opened the front door, there they were, deep purple and yellow blossoms fluttering in the breeze, triangular centers blazing their arrival.

The first irises always remind me of my friend L., who loves the sight and scent of them. Yesterday, I sent her a close-up photo of what she loves.

Like all of us of a certain age, L. has lived through adversities and emerged a beauty, inside and out. When I see the iris, I think of how L. and her sister S. built a literary journal from scratch, one that is now nationally respected, one that literary contests pull their prize selections from year after year.

L. and S. researched for more than a year how to put a literary journal together. At first, they had their detractors. One of them was a columnist who wrote that they were doomed to failure because they didn’t work from the bottom up, i.e. sucking up to every literary persona in town who might one day be a player in their venture, and because of all things, at their opening party, they giggled a lot.

I hope they are giggling still, two decades later, being nationally renowned and all. These sisters continue to meet their goal while remaining kind and generous. They’ve featured years of good writers, some of them beginners, and brought many to national prominence. Quarterly, they also produce a bulletin of solid writing advice. Having done what they intended to do from the beginning, one step at a time, working hard, ignoring harsh words from large egos, they’ve persevered.

Persevered, like the first irises every spring that weather winters’ storms with the intention of bringing joy just by being. As I gaze at their purple, lavender and yellow blossoms, I imagine them giggling a lot.

THE LOVE TOUR

THE LOVE TOUR

January is a most depressing month, and February follows right on its heels. Here on the coast everything is dripping wet, soggy and marshlike. The prominent color of the sky is some variation of Payne’s gray, from “dark ominous” to “continual dusk” to “shiny steel.” Lest you think growing things are all dead, though, when you see brown, slime, and mold, I’m here to tell you plenty is going on underneath the leaves, twigs, branches and mulch. Even if it’s spitting rain, I suggest you take a hopeful walk around your garden. Make what I call the Love Tour.

Today, I asked myself, “What can I see that I love?” I started out from the front door, where our porch is decorated with primroses my husband bought at the store, with the joy of their color in mind. We love seeing them every time we go in or out of our home. We didn’t grow them, but I think they count anyway.

Next, I noticed all the nubbins—bulbs arising in either sidewalk bed. Some early daffodils are ready to bloom, but the later bulbs are slowly undressing. Besides daffodils, I saw the arms of narcissus, crocus, snowbells, hyacinth, muscari, tulips and Scilla siberica, all reaching for the light.

Around the corner, two clumps of heather are in bloom. I love the happy pinks. If I clip some stems, they fit perfectly in a teeny blue glass vase and will dry and retain their color for a couple of months on a counter or table.

Some yarrow is greening, promising its work as a bouquet filler and a medicinal in herbal concoctions. The rose campion and foxglove rosettes haven’t frozen and neither has the hollyhock, which means we may have their colorful blooms earlier than usual. I love that!

The rosemary is green and blooming. I squeeze and rub the leaves and smell my hand. Heavenly!

Green ferns are out of the ground. So is the German chamomile. More green.

The red-twigged dogwood pops color where there are no blooms. I saw buds on the lilacs, forsythia, flowering quince, and pussy willow. I love seeing their promise!

Without leaves blocking the view, I noticed the structural elements I put in place last summer, such as the graveled patio space I dug and laid for the red table and chairs, and the paving stone foundation for the red bench. I love that it’s all ready when the time comes. I also made a list of the places that need work and the pruning that needs done as soon as the weather is more forgiving, because right now they are more noticeable.

After my circuit of our house through the flower beds, looking for things I love, I reached my front porch in a much happier frame of mind, grateful for nature and my connection to it. We can’t always get away to sunnier climes, but we can always take ten minutes out of our day to make the Love Tour. I recommend it.

Home Grown Thanksgiving

Bountiful Table
Bountiful Table

As my family—my sister, my mother, and my husband–made way to eat Thanksgiving dinner, my sister Anita surveyed the table and said, “Wow! Just look. Most of everything here we either grew, canned, or froze. That’s awesome!”

And true. She grew the potatoes she mashed and the green beans. She grew the butternut squash she candied. She didn’t make the marshmallows, but maybe next year. The turkey and gravy were not grown by us, it’s true. However, when I was in the 7th grade, my mother grew turkeys on our farm, so that year, we could definitely say we grew the turkey we ate. That was the only year we could say that, though, because the turkeys were so stupid and time-consuming they about did my mother in, so she went on to focus on chickens, who at least have a brain.

The gravy came from McCormick’s, gluten-free, and we hadn’t grown the kinds of plants used to assemble the gravy mix. Give my sister time, okay?

The anti-pasto plate was yummy and due to our joint summertime efforts. My sister grew the cucumbers she pickled. We grew the green beans, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and peppers for the vegetable mixture I pickled. The apples I wedged and candied came from our apple trees. My sister grew the beets she pickled. The olives, bless their finger-tipping hearts, my sister withdrew from a can she opened and drained. She could have planted an olive tree, picked and preserved her own olives, mind you, but alas, she’s allergic to olive trees.

All of us have grown the carrots, cauliflower, and cucumber sticks on the appetizer plate.

My sister grew the loganberries, blackberries, raspberries, and marionberries in the berry delight for dessert. She bought the ice cream, but in the past we’ve milked the cow, separated the milk, and churned the ice cream. My sister Susie still makes ice cream the good, old-fashioned way, by hand. It’s one reason I will drive eight hours to visit her in the summer.

At the head of the table sat the major reason my sisters and I know how to do all this—our mother. Looking at our well-provisioned table, we were all grateful for what our parents passed on to us.

Growing up, my siblings and I learned from our father and mother how to grow, can, and preserve. My husband learned from his parents as well. I say we were lucky to have grown up in rural areas where people could live off the land and have the foresight to teach their offspring how to do the same. My sisters and I have never forgotten the lessons we learned and when we are able, we provide for ourselves. It warms my heart that many of my young friends are discovering anew these skills, if not from their elders, then from 4-H classes, the Extension Service, and from each other. They are making sure their children learn the skills as well, especially since many schools have opted out of teaching the home skills.

Self-sufficiency feels good, especially when you know that what you’ve grown is organic, without harmful chemicals, and truly tasty. Besides, you’ve kept in better shape working for it! Our whole neighborhood shares produce, techniques, recipes, and canned goods. Nothing better than that!

This Thanksgiving, among other things, I was grateful for the bounty at our table, the family members seated around it, especially our mother, and for the lessons we’ve learned and put into action.