Reprieve

I love when something that was once dead comes back to life.  Love.  Faith. Inspiration.  Plants.

It’s been cold these past few nights.  I am fighting the urge to turn on the heat, but really.  September 16th?  Technically, summer doesn’t end for a few days yet.  I refuse to fire up that furnace!

But the garden is taking it in the chin with these close-to-freezing temps.  The sedum, the black eyed susans – they are thriving.  Of course they are!  They are late-summer and fall bloomers. But the boxes filled with choleus and the sweet potato vines are limp and disgusting.  I have half a mind to cut them all back this weekend and forget about them until next spring.

Or should I?

My Endless Summer hydrangea, once dead and bloomless, has come back to life.  It was gorgeous in May, and then, that heat wave in early June fried its leaves and blossoms and left me with nothin’.  Now, a big, beautiful blossom sits glorious among healthy leaves.  I was convinced it had run its cycle, but I was wrong.  Perhaps, with a little water and sun this weekend, my wimpy boxes can get a reprieve.  A little patience and love could bring them back for a while.

So let me repeat myself…I love when something once dead comes back to life.

Falling

I love Fall.  The changing temps, the crisp air, the open windows, the falling leaves.

I’ve learned to embrace the Fall garden.  The spots of bright color within a fading pallet.  It is beautiful, and it is sad, and it signals the beginning of a time when we brace ourselves for what is coming.

One of the reasons we like living in Minnesota is that there are four distinct seasons (not just one long cold one, contrary to popular belief).  Every year, creation does its thing, and we mark time in a mostly smooth and orderly way.  Of course, there are some years when  it snows in May or we have 55 degrees on January 13th.  But for the most part, nature doesn’t offer many surprises.  Just a predictable and delightful process.

Life these days isn’t like that.  Right now, there are too many surprises, too many things out of our control, too many things tugging at our consciousness, keeping us awake, making us worry.   For once, it isn’t about our work or money.  This time, it’s about things that really matter.

So I go to the garden to find some comfort, to relish its fading beauty and contemplate next moves that will never be taken. And I go there to pray.  Never for answers, but rather for peace, strength and wisdom.  Answers are not always at the ready. But peace, wisdom and strength will help us find them.

 

Dad

My dad would have been 85 years old today.  He was a great guy and a great father, and he loved our yard.  Whenever he was hospitalized that last summer, he’d say, “Can’t you just take me over to Kris and Fred’s so I can sit on their deck?”  In honor of Dad, I’d like to share a piece I wrote about him several years ago in October:

October 25th

Every fall, I have the same feelings of focused diligence mixed with anguished regret.  Every pot I dump, I think of the weeds that never got pulled.  Every flower box I take from the front deck, I notice another hole in the planking and wonder when, oh when we’ll be able to replace the whole thing.

I marvel at the few, bright Sonic Red New Guinea impatiens that refuse to die, the Lemon Zest petunias that come back from the dead only to have me bury them alive in the compost heap over the fence.  I think about their brilliance and their beauty in the midst of the death and decay that is just around the corner along with 30 below wind chill and 20 foot snow drifts.

I fight the impulse to get down into the dirt and pull those damn dandelions that will not die, not now, not ever.  I could expend the energy to pull them, but why?  They will be the first ones back in the garden next spring, whether I pull them now or not, happy and strong and ready to propagate.  I did pull up the thorny leaves of a nasty thistle this morning, a plant that had been taunting me for weeks.  I thought as I yanked at the leaves, “Now is the time, you bastard…DIE!”, but in my haste and fury, I left the root in the ground because I just don’t have the energy today to totally fight a battle I’ll never win.

Today is October 25th, late in the season for Minnesotans to be raking and putting up storm windows.  Most years, we have all that winter prep done weeks before now.  But this year, it’s just been a little too warm and mild, and the acorns never did drop. 

So I’m thinking, based on Farmer’s Almanac supposition, maybe winter won’t be so early or so bad.  So far, our luck is holding.

Throughout the day, working in my garden, preparing it for the cold, I’m thinking about my dad.  October 25th is my parents’ wedding anniversary.  It is also the day, 4 years ago, that my dad slipped and fell and went into the hospital for the last time only to come home to die 3 weeks later.  October 25, 2004 was the beginning of the end of my dad’s life.  And I miss him today especially.

For the past 4 years, I’ve thought of my dad almost daily, but my memories of Dad during the fall are particularly vivid and poignant.  Dad was one of the most friendly, outgoing guys you’d ever meet.  He made friends easily and everywhere he went.  He was the master of chit chat.  Rarely deep or provocative, but always entertaining and memorable, Dad knew a little about a lot and had a joke for every occasion.  Despite those raunchy jokes and a fondness for profanity, he was a man of deep faith.  He prayed, he taught us, his five children, to pray, and more than anything, he taught us to believe. 

Dad’s life was not easy.  He was an under-educated over-achiever.  He accomplished incredible success with little education or support from his parents.  He was self-effacing and confident enough to admit what he didn’t know, and eager to learn, even in his latest years.   He faced  tough economic times and failed at times in business.  But every day, he woke up and told himself, “Today will be a better day.”  And most often it was.

People are talking a lot about hope these days.  I would love for them to have known my dad.  He was the epitome of hope.   I don’t think the words “I give up” ever passed his lips.

Perhaps it was because Dad’s birth and death are both in the fall that keep him top of mind every autumn.  Or it could be because the best conversation I ever had with my dad was during that last stay in the hospital.  It was just him and me.  The elections were right around the corner.  The debates were hot and heavy.  And Dad and I had a great time discussing it all.

Or it could be because the beautiful fall leaves remind me of that September around his last birthday.   Fred and I had stopped for coffee and a visit, and Dad greeted us from his chair with a contented look on his face.  Other visits, he secretly shared with my husband that he just didn’t understand why God was letting him wake up every morning.  But that day, he seemed lost in thought as he gazed out the glass doors to their patio and seemed to only be half listening to our conversation. 

When my mom and I got up to refill the coffee cups, Dad turned to Fred and said, “I just feel so awful, and I’m ready to go.  I ask myself every day why doesn’t God just take me.”  And then, he looked out the glass doors again at the deep orange leaves on the tree that grew right next to the patio.  “Have you ever seen anything more beautiful than that tree, Fred?” he asked wistfully.  “I think God wants me alive today just so that I could see that tree.” 

Stop to appreciate the beauty of nature today.  I know I will, and will be remembering dear old Dad.

Paths

Among the many things I love in our garden are the paths.  Limestone stepping-stones surrounded by cedar mulch, edged carefully.  One path leads from the back door to the deck (the Path of Inspiration) and the other leads from the deck through the butterfly garden to the Bench of Reflection (the Path of Introspection).

The paths, the bench and the naming began when I was able to secure some of the old limestone from the Como Conservatory Grotto that was refurbished many years ago.  We started by using this treasure to create a small stone patio at the southeast corner of the front yard.  The litte patio screamed for a bench and some planters…and a name.  Thus the Bench of Reflection.

Several years later, after the new retaining wall was built and the butterfly garden defined, Fred and I decided we needed a path through the garden, from the back deck to the bench.  A path to collect your thoughts before sitting on the bench to reflect.  The Path of Introspection was born!

And then, because we loved that path, we decided we needed another one from the back door to the deck.  Bigger, more prominent, we created the Path of Inspiration because the inspiration for what happened on the deck usually started in the kitchen by the back door.

Unless you know me and my family, you might find the naming weird.  But understand – this naming thing is in our DNA and part of our familial quirky humor.  But this quirkiness seems to stop with my generation.  For the most part, our kids make fun of the named paths and the bench, and begrudge us this tongue-in-cheek whimsy.

There is hope, though.  Every year we refresh the mulch, and our younger son, Ian, helps us out from time to time.   He usually gets started with the question, “How many bags of mulch do we need on the Path of Introspection?”, not missing a beat.

I love it!

Faith

This is a big time in the lives of four families that mean a lot to us.  Their children are starting Kindergarten!

These four families make up our mentoring group at our church through a program called Faith Imprints.  For three years, Fred and I, as the “seasoned” parents serving as mentors to the group, met twice a month with these parents (with their children), discussing and teaching them ways to be the first priests in their children’s lives.  We started when the kids were infants, and continued until the kids entered Sunday School at 3 years old.  We got to know the kids, the parents and their siblings well.  It was a wonderful experience, and it continues today through our relationship with these children and their families that is as much about friendship as it is about faith formation.

People have commented on the incredible commitment it took to serve as mentors to these families.  It was a big commitment, but what we got out of that program was so much more than we put into it.  Those people enriched our lives and continue to do so.  It’s been a gift…one that we truly cherish.

In the next week or so, Grant, Elise, Annika and Lily and their parents will be starting a new adventure, that of navigating the public education system.  I rejoice with them, and I weep for them.  It can be a long and trying journey.

Today, I salute my little friends.  They are reflected in our garden by this little gathering of four birds at a bird bath.  I hope the kids always gather and connect with each other.  We will be watching out for them.

Cool

My post today has nothing to do with my garden, per se, but it does relate to my fascination and love of birds, which hold a pretty prominent place in our yard.

I’m writing today about the ultra cool, so-beautiful-I-can’t-stand-it roosters I just viewed at the Minnesota State Fair.  A testament to the glory of creation and the wonder of nature, our annual visit to the Poultry Barn is a highlight of the year, and I cannot help but be delighted the minute I walk through the doors.

These creatures are quirky, sturdy but ethereal.  The colors of their feathers are awesome, in the real sense of the word.  And the breeds are all so different!  Who knew that one could literally pick from dozens of choices for color, size and shape?

Their heads are what really get me.  Some look like the wild, feathery hats worn by the Queen Mother.  Some of them are the traditional bright red comb in a shock of smooth black feathers.  And some are like Foghorn Leghorn.  And the dozens of others have just as distinct coloring and plumage that can literally take your breath away.

I do know that the tradition of seeing these creatures makes me joy-filled and very happy.  But I also enjoy my own wonderment at the diversity in creation.

This past weekend, I told my nephew and his wife about my love for the roosters, and encouraged them to visit the Poultry Barn if they visited the Fair the next weekend.  “But Aunt Kris, the smell!” was my nephew’s response.   I tried to explain how you don’t even notice the aroma because the sights are so incredible.  He was dubious.  “Just try it,” I said.  “You just have to see it, and you’ll understand.”

It is just so cool.

Home

After a weekend away in Chicago visiting my brother and his family, I am glad to be home.  Our hosts were gracious, the food delish, the parties fun and the surroundings sumptuous.  But there truly is no place like home.

This is what I missed – my blossoming mystery plant, my ripening hot peppers and the final hosta blooms.  Bumblebees. Our chipmunks.

Morning coffee with Freddy on the deck.  Kenny.

My pillow and squishy bed.  My computer.  My 14-year-old Honda.

My neighbors.

My children – birth, step, in-laws, significants and adopted.

My home.  My garden.  My heart.