Sunday, July 6, 2014

Windows wide

We beckon summer winds and rain to enter our house through windows that stay open night and day, even when it rains. Not wanting to shut out the cool, fresh air the rainfall brings, I'd rather mop up afterward than close the storm windows.

This small thunderstorm poured down for eight minutes just before sunset, leaving dappled clouds and a neon rainbow in its wake.

Other sunsets sing a softer song, slipping by in a silence broken only by a cardinal calling me to come out and fill the bird feeder, it is dinnertime.

On Independence Day, we biked over to Historic Fort Snelling, only ten minutes from here. The old fort was built high on a bluff over the place where the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers meet. The landscape still is a place sacred to the Dakota Indians.

The Minnesota River has flooded the whole river valley, and is wide as a lake. It laps at the lower branches of full-grown trees. I picture carp and catfish swimming through the branches upon which birds and squirrels usually perch, exploring a strangely leafy new world.

This is one channel of the Mississippi:

Back to the fort. We watched a mock battle between the Americans and British from the War of 1812, climbed the Round Tower, wandered through the store, schoolhouse and smithy, asking questions of the costumed interpreters. (That is my role. I always ask a bunch of questions, whatever the situation. Lee just soaks up the knowledge.)

I tried to capture the feeling of these low-chroma still lifes, lit only by natural light falling through the wavy glass. The simplicity and integrity of the objects and the materials from which they are wrought brought me such a feeling of satisfaction: Iron. Wood. Brick. Ink. Paper. Tin.

I like the variety and shapes of them; each unique, handmade, fashioned for usefulness.

Each also laden with a long story in human history, each given a simple name. (Bowl, from which human persons eat. Bucket, in which we carry water. Barrel, in which food is stored through long winters. Bellows. Chair. Plate. Spoon. Latch.)

After a picnic lunch from the food truck, it was time to bike home, on a path that ran through swaths of waving grasses and wildflowers.

Out there, in this field? This is where the chokecherries are putting down roots.


A monarch butterfly flitted by the porch window yesterday and out I rushed, just in time to see her touch down on one of the butterfly weeds in the butterfly garden. An affirmation, I thought. "Certified Wildlife Habitat" is not very meaningful without the wildlife, after all. But now my humble plot has been awarded the Butterfly Seal of Approval.


There comes a time each July when summer takes a fierce turn, and open windows do more to heat the house than cool it.

So it was today. A hot, humid wind gusted from the south. Overnight the air, heavy with moisture, wilted a couple of greeting cards tucked around a window frame in my room, making them droop upon themselves like plucked daisies.

As the morning progressed, Stazi Lu deserted her window perch and retreated to the basement to find a cooler spot for napping.

Juni trotted over every time I cracked open the refrigerator, poking her head in the door, ready to climb in and take her chances.

And this northern girl, who loves nothing more than a cool, crisp day in the 60s, said UNCLE.

So Lee lugged up the air conditioner from the basement.

(A ritual chore always carried out when temperature plus dewpoint add up to "steambath of the damned." O noble husband, Keeper of the Coolness and Bringer Home of Ice Cream, we thank you.)

Summer, you keep being summer. Keep shining that golden sunset light through my west windows, open or closed. Keep bushing out the butterfly flowers and feeding the meadow grasses.

We shall rest in the shade, stirring only when the sun sinks to the horizon, then take to the streets at dusk like Italians, the better to admire your golden-edged clouds, your gentle evening breezes that ruffle our skirts about our legs softly, like a goodnight caress.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The steward of small things

THE LOVELY, WILD SCENT OF RAIN is wafting in the window on a south wind.

Rain. Lots of it. The rainiest year on record. Mosquitoes attack in wispy swarms. Even in full sun! I'm marked with welts, even a couple of kid-like scabs on my ankles (bony spots are usually itchiest).

Scratching insect bites: An ancient summer ritual.

(Just now, a tiny red spider crawls in wavering circles across my screen, searching for a smell, a texture, an object she recognizes. I lose her for a second when I look away but eventually find her on the table. She is escorted to a leaf outside.)

In April, I brought home two native chokecherries, knowing they're beloved by birds. Then I learned that chokecherry's leaves, stems, bark and seeds—every part but its fruit—contain cyanide. Poison to mammals, like my little cat, who is allowed in the back yard. So the seedlings stayed in their containers on my back porch as I fostered them, pondering where their true home should be.

In a wild field not far away, in the sun in an open spot amid the flowering clovers, trefoil, daisies and fleabane, I planted them today. 

I cleared the stones from around their roots, but they're on their own now. My wish is that they send their roots deep into that long-ago prairie soil and thrive, growing fruit for hungry feathered creatures to feast upon, making their home again on lands where they once grew.

Full summer snuck up on me. It was a surprise, like rounding a curve the other day and catching sight of a doe lit by morning sunlight, grazing in grasses high as her back, in the place above the river where the wild turkeys like to strut.

Driving to work. Rounding a curve. Ordinary. But then: heart-singing beauty. 

Like that. 

This moment was shaped like a bowl, as a bowl is shaped like a lake and a lake reflects the sky, and in its it hollow it held a handful of exquisitely ripe raspberries, with raspberry ice cream. Juicy with all that rain, sugared by rare days of hot sun, throbbing with life and summer. 

A body-shivering deliciousness: this is living. 

An overpowering feeling: this is a gift. 

Earth our home, let me thank you for the care you take of me. With such generosity and love you feed us, sustain us, delight us and fill us with joy. 

In reciprocity, I make this offering into your rich, dark, life-giving hands: Two small chokecherries. 

I commend these green spirits to you and place them in your care. 

Make them to flourish upon your breast, let them be part of the unending tale of wonder you tell. 

Of how you provide for all, for free. 

Of how each creature and each growing thing depends on your generosity. 

Of how there is a difference between taking what has been offered and taking what has not. And that the difference begins with gratitude.

With this offering, I give thanks. 

An abundance of gifts come your way.

Towers of bright clouds piled high in a blue sky. 

The glowing red of ripe raspberries, halfway between crimson and rose petal.  

The flashing flight of a blackbird past your window. 

Five bronze bells ringing noon from high on the hill every day—until one day, the chords suddenly cast soft white petals over your heart. 


It's like this: So many things that matter can't be planned or scheduled. Can't be corralled or orchestrated, dissected or predicted or codified. 

You may just look up, or listen, or sniff the wind, and there it is. 

Freely given.

Please recognize and accept these gifts.

Yes, they're intentional.

They were made for you. 

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