Little Green Tomatoes

Tiny Seeds of Goodness


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September

Southern Crownbeard (Verbesina occidentalis)

 

September is a time of deep emotional and spiritual reflection for me.

A month of magic and mystical occurrences – past and present – September is a month in which I spend a great deal of time “within”, in introspection, plugging in to my intuitive self, paying attention.

September holds anniversaries of important events and great change in my life.

Companionship gained.  Companionship lost.

Connectivity. Parting.

Sweet. Bittersweet.

Births. Deaths.

Unfinished business. Conversations still needing to take place.

Trust gained. Trust lost.

September finds me yearning for the cool crisp mornings and evenings of Midwestern Septembers, while it is still very much hot summer here in the Southeast (98 degrees Fahrenheit on 9/29/19, for Pete’s sake!).  September heat and dryness makes me weary. Dry brown and yellowing leaves have begun to drift down from the tree tops. The vibrant colors of the summer flowers have faded, for they appear to share my weariness.  No amount of water from my garden hose seems to restore their vigor.  The lawn is dry, thinning, and downright crunchy in places.

And yet, this September, a bit of “new-to-me” magic has revealed itself. This magic is very old and very wise. It springs from Mother Earth and it is good magic. It provides a very necessary food source for the wild ones and a very much appreciated source of visual beauty and a spiritual salve for me.  It is a sign of two of Mother Earth’s Superpowers – Abundance & Healing.

For, this September, late-summer blooming native plants have appeared, in abundance, in the wild places on our property, and along roadsides and “wild edges” I pass by on my daily/weekly travels.

In general, I have to think that last year’s huge amount of rainfall and subsequent daily/weekly flooding played an important part in this year’s abundant blooms.  The massive soaking that began in late August 2018 and which continued through April 2019 most likely transported and distributed seeds via overflowing ditches, creeks, and flooded rivers. The area in which we live has a “normal” annual precipitation of about 44”.  From 1/1/2018 to 12/31/2018 we received about 68” of rain and snow. Our cup runneth over. The ground remained completely saturated.  With each new rainstorm, massive trees just leaned over and laid down, their root systems pulled free of the soupy soil, leaving open craters where they had once been anchored firmly to the Earth.  Gulleys and washes formed on saturated slopes, the red clay soil exposed and slipping downward.

For sure, soil and seed landed and mixed together along banks, riparian buffers, and woodsy edges.  And the continued above-average rainfall that fell through April ensured germination and rooting.

On our small piece of property, the abundance of late-summer flowering natives and the continuing presence of all sorts of pollinators, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, is a powerful acknowledgement that we are heading in the right direction – following the lead of Mother Earth…..

 A journey that began with a succession of unintentional actions and in-actions, on our part, and which now continues with an intentional purpose of nuturing, protecting, and improving habitat…….

A journey that ballooned with feelings of frustration, blame, turmoil, and a constant swirl of ‘out-of-control / never being caught up’ thoughts and words – all mixed in and mixed up with a time of life and series of events that brought copious amounts of sadness, guilt, isolation, and grief……

A journey that opened up into comfort and joy…..just about a year ago…….

It was as if something began to gently nudge me and encourage me to look a little closer…..to see beyond the swirling thoughts and the “scorecard” I still carried with me from a much different time in my life, and a much different mindset…..to begin to notice and connect with what Mother Earth has been busily healing and re-creating during my years of distraction.

Looking back, now, with my vision and my senses much clearer than before – if only I had been able to hear her then, I’m sure she was telling me “Don’t worry, I got this! You focus on what you need to do, and let me show you what I can do! Let me run with this – I have the wisdom and the resources, and if you give me the reigns and some time, we can do great things together!”

Where the big trees came down last year, there is new growth everywhere.  I assumed that would be the case, but I have been stunned by the abundance of new growth, the variety of plants and seedling trees, and the growth rate exhibited!  I began to really take note of all the newness and the absolute flush of new green and blossoms and fungi – the healing – in the Spring months. I have continued to be amazed throughout the summer, and still now, as the dry conditions and the heat wear on into autumn.  I am very much looking forward to working outdoors this winter and into the spring – adding more native plants to stabilize and hold the streambank, removing aggressive vines and poison ivy, and adding new understory shrubs and small trees which will provide food and nesting space for the birds.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to finding out what magic and surprises Mother Earth has in store.  I’ll be paying attention, taking note, and doing my best to follow her lead.

“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

~ Wendell Berry ~

 


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Sunday Coffee with Morning Glory and Hitch Hikin’ Herb

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I enjoy a good cup of coffee, with cream, please.  Not milk.  Cream.  Well, actually, my go-to choice is half & half.  I am my father’s daughter.

Funny, the things I associate with coffee….

My father always paired his “heavy on the half & half” coffee with the morning newspaper, a pencil & pad of notepaper (for crafting his daily to-do list), and, sadly, a slew of chain-smoked cigarettes.  The latter of which was largely responsible for his death.

My mother preferred to consume three cups of strong, black coffee while reading the morning newspaper from front to back.  Earlier in her life she, too, paired her coffee with a slew of chain-smoked cigarettes.  Later in life, still missing a “good cigarette” with her coffee, she busied herself with crossword puzzles and sudoku after she was finished browsing through the newspaper.

My grandma’s way of enjoying her coffee was a source of entertainment and happy giggles for me as a child.  A pretty cup and saucer were required implements for her morning routine.  She would transfer the piping hot, rather weak liquid into her cup from the percolator on the stove.  From there, the cup would be re-united with the saucer at the kitchen table, where it would sit until she had prepared her bowl of Bran Buds with sliced bananas or strawberries and milk from a glass milk bottle.  Always glass, and always delivered by the local dairy.  The bowl of cereal and grandma would proceed to the kitchen table and then the fun would begin! Once she was seated and had adjusted her pretty apron in her lap, she would pour a little bit of the hot coffee into the saucer.  She would gently swirl that weak, brown liquid in that pretty saucer for a few seconds, raise it to her lips and slurp it – tentatively at first – until the temperature was tested – and then with gusto! And, so, the cup and subsequent cups would be drained – pouring, swirling, slurping.  I loved spending the night or the weekend or an entire week in the summer at Grandma’s house.  And it was worth getting up early to enjoy her morning routine with her.

My first husband loved coffee and drank it all day long.  My second husband won’t drink the stuff, but loves the smell of it – fresh ground and brewed.

As for my dear old friends – I couldn’t tell you how they best like their coffee, but we have drained many a cup accompanied by wonderful conversation and soul-fulfilling time spent together!

And that leads me to the three cups I enjoyed this September Sunday morning.

I have some new friends to hang out with.  Their names are Morning Glory and Hitch Hikin’ Herb.  It’s so rude of me, but I really haven’t even thought of asking them if they would like to enjoy a cup while we hang out.  Where are my manners? Their cousins Rosemary, Basil, Tater, and Pea Pod seem to enjoy a good sprinkling of coffee grounds occasionally – maybe Morning Glory and Hitch Hikin’ Herb would enjoy some as well?

These new friends of mine let me do all of the talking.  After the initial “Good Morning” greeting and some small talk about the weather and how lovely they are and other celebrities who may be hanging out in the neighborhood at the moment, I run out of things to say and we just hang out, listening to the morning sounds of birds chirping, late summer bugs, and the crows chasing the red shouldered hawks above the tree tops.  I slurp my coffee while Morning Glory and Hitch Hikin’ Herb drink in the fresh morning air and the first rays of sunshine.

Morning Glory – sowed by my hand, from a package of old seeds – sprung up to embrace the light outside of the sunporch a few months ago.  She gracefully wrapped herself around the teepee I had crafted for her from Redbud branches. From there, she worked her way over to the stout Sunflower stalk who shared her space in my Can of Surprises.   Sunflower, spent and leaning at a 45 degree angle, finally succumbed to wind, rain, and the pull of gravity, leaving Morning Glory flapping in the breeze.  I pulled up the rickety old rocking chair and gently laid Morning Glory’s vines and leaves across the back of it.  She’s been busy enveloping that chair and testing new territory on the weathered bench on the other side of her can.  On September 1st she shared her first bloom and so I shared on my very first Twitter post on my new Twitter journal.

https://twitter.com/twigandposy/status/1168353511500931076  

And it has been a grand morning performance every since.

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Hitch Hikin’ Herb (given name, Desmodium), on the other hand, well, his seeds were no-doubt sowed by several of Mother Nature’s accomplices – birds, furry critters, and The Breeze, to name a few.  He is very happily hanging out in the dappled sunlight along the wild edge of wooded creek buffer.  His tiny orchid-like flowers and gracefully arching foliage are absolutely lovely to behold and seem to attract the tiniest of nectar-sipping insects.  He is a native to this part of the world, and his triangular shaped seeds will provide fall and winter food for wildlife. The pods of those seeds are responsible for his endearing nickname, as they grab and hold on to anything that brushes up against them. No doubt Herb and I will be continuing our conversations throughout Autumn and Winter and early Spring, as I walk and work amongst the trees. There will be time spent tediously removing Herb’s clinging pods from socks, shoes, trousers, and jackets. At that point I’ll need to remember the beauty of his tiny flowers and the nourishment he provides for the insects and the birds and the furry ones.

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And, I’ll SMILE as I remember the pleasure of time spent, over coffee, on a September Sunday morning.  😊

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Sadness & Healing

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Yesterday evening, nearing twilight, thinking that the hot pavement would have cooled down, I decided to walk with our dogs to the end of the road – just a short walk after a late dinner.

I could glimpse a few patches of a vivid pink glow of sunset through the trees. The end of the road would afford an unobstructed view.

As we neared a neighbor’s wooded out-lot the distinctive aroma of pine welcomed us – perfuming the still air.  Lovely. Such a pleasant, fresh gift to the senses.

Arriving at the end of the road, darkness approaching, quiet rustling and chirping coming from the woods to the south and to the east, a deep pink and salmon colored glow lay across the western horizon.  Mesmerizing shades of periwinkle, sapphire, and indigo hung above. I stood watching as the colors blended and changed – my hands full of dog leashes and without my camera or my phone – I let the feel of it soak into my vision and into my mind.  Even the dogs seemed content to just stand there.

After some minutes, the silhouettes of a neighbor and her two large protective dogs appeared at the top of a little rise in the road, and so we turned and headed back for home, feeling full of awe and contentment.

As we headed north, a mockingbird began her twilight soundtrack amidst the trees back along the creek.  As the dogs went to sniff along the ditch-line another odor appeared – an unpleasant one – the acrid chemical smell of brush killer.  As I tugged the dogs back from the ditch, in the fading light I could just barely make out the color of dead, brown, undergrowth among the trees separating two neighboring properties.

“How sad”, I thought.

Sad for all the Life there in that life-sustaining and sheltering undergrowth.

Sad for the beneficial insects & their eggs, larvae, & pupa that they work all of their short lives to create – for the next cycle of life.

Sad for the toads, lizards, turtles & snakes who depend on the undergrowth for food, shelter, dewdrops, and life-sustaining moisture to keep their bodies hydrated.

Sad for the birds who depend on the undergrowth for their nesting and for food for them and their babies.

Sad for the soil and the trees, for now there is nothing to hold the top soil in place.

Sad for the creek at the bottom of the property – for the rain that came last night surely washed chemical residue into that beautiful little source of life-sustaining water. And, with the heavy rains of autumn and winter, the loose topsoil will wash down that slope, and sediment will clog and slow the flow.

Sad for our property – adjacent and downstream.

Sad for the municipal drinking water reservoir, also downstream, for without a doubt, there are many other lots & woods & fields awash in the same chemicals between here and there.

Sad for all the wildlife who may have come into contact with, or eaten something that had been doused with those chemicals, for who knows what the effects truly are.

And, least important of all, sad for myself, because I cannot understand the need for all of the chemicals that our species spreads upon the Earth.

About 10:00 p.m. I filled up my mason jar with 24 oz. of ice water and headed out to the porch.  It was very warm there, even at that late hour, for the heat of the day had not dissipated.  The late summer night air was thick, humid, full of the songs of the summer chorus – crickets, toads, the occasional rasp of a katydid.  I rested my head back against the sofa cushions and I must have dozed off.  I suppose I might have snoozed for about 45 minutes when I became aware of being uncomfortably warm – HOT! I opened my eyes and reached for the mason jar, thinking I would retreat back in to the air-conditioned house.

Just then, a gentle puff of breeze floated through the windows, followed by a stronger rush of cooler air.  With it, the sweet, delicate scent of some summer bloom.  And then, that indescribably lovely aroma of freshly mown high grasses and wild plants – plants that I used to call weeds.  The gentle ping of raindrops on metal roofs floated in through the south windows.  And then, with the next rush of cooler air – the smell of rain.

The porch door opened and my husband, peeking out into the darkness, reported “The weatherman says it’s supposed to rain tonight”.  Replying back, out of the darkness, “I know. And it is”.

This morning, a little walk-about, down near the creek that winds through our property,  revealed the source of that sweet, delicate scent traveling on last night’s breeze. Festoons of gorgeous, fragrant white flowers have burst into bloom, attracting a whole host of bees, wasps, and butterflies (none of which wanted to pose for my photos)!

Apparently, the vine is happily thriving with additional sunlight in places previously occupied by old trees that were lost in last year’s hurricanes. It is trailing along the old chicken yard fence and blanketing understory growth in sunnier spots at the top of the streambank.

A web search for “late summer blooming vine with white flowers” produced photos identical to the images in this post.  I learned that this stunning late summer beauty is named Clematis virginiana.  It is a native plant here in the southeastern United States.  And I can see that the timing of its blooming is providing late summer food to many insects.  How lovely would it be if I can encourage it to grow up and over a rustic pergola along with native Trumpet Creeper?!

Seems this beautiful Clematis virginiana is also known by nicknames such as Devil’s Darning Needles, Virgin’s Bower, and Old Man’s Beard. Whatever its nicknames, I’ll call it a Healing Balm from Mother Nature, for its scent came to me last night and helped to sooth my profound sadness.  This morning, after seeking out the source of that soothing scent, and becoming acquainted, my mood has improved and I am, once again, amazed by Nature’s amazing Superpower!

I’ll do all that I can to help, on my little patch of land, in my no-spray zone, where the life-sustaining undergrowth is living and growing and blooming……..and healing.

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I have come to terms  with the future. 

From this day onward I will walk

easy on the earth. Plant trees. Kill 

no living things.  Live in harmony with 

all creatures. I will restore the earth

where I am. Use no more of its resources

than I need. And listen, listen to what

it is telling me. 

~ M.J. Slim Hooey ~


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A Bevy of Butterflies!

 

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This time of year, when the sun comes up in the morning it’s like the “OPEN” sign at the local diner just got switched on. The butterflies begin to flutter in to the flower beds, and it’s a feast for the eyes of this beholder.  Such lovely company to have while I’m going about my early morning watering.

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Amazingly, I only planted 4 packages of Zinnia seeds and 4 packages of Cosmos seeds!  Some packets were 3 to 5 years old, so I’m sure the germination rate was reduced.  Some of the Lantana from last year returned, and it appears that some new plants sprung up from the Lantana self seeding.  So, with very little expense & effort, these small patches of flowers are providing a good amount of food for butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and goldfinches.  And a tremendous amount of enjoyment for the humans who are amazed by all of the busy, buzzing, humming, fluttering life surrounding us!

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Giving. Giving Up. Surrender.

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Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

~  Martin Luther ~

An old friend gave a sigh of surrender and gave up Thursday afternoon – on the eve of Summer Solstice.  Gravity, a deep wound, and a hollowing heart proved to be more than she could bear.  She laid herself down in a swirling storm of wind and torrential rain.

Our neighbor often tells the story of how the tree leaned over, many years ago, in a severe storm.  The man who had planted and cared for her enlisted the help of the neighbor’s husband.  Together, they lifted her up and placed her roots back in to the earth.  We would have done the same for her.  However, that is not an option this time.

We will miss her…….

The pollinators will miss the profusion of food her blossoms offered up each Spring.  The sparrows and the nuthatches and the tufted titmice will miss the protection of her densely interwoven branches.  A whole host of wildlife, and our family dogs, will miss her imperfect, pocked, and wormy apples. The dogwood, the pecans, the crape myrtle, and the holly – her neighbors for 40-some years – will no doubt miss her presence.

I will miss her for all of the above and more……

But I will never forget the night, in late summer, about 5 or 6 years ago, looking out of the bedroom window and seeing a group of white-tailed deer, silhouetted against the silvery moonlit grass, dining upon her apples.  I don’t know what it was that awakened me that night, and compelled me to rise and look out of the window.  Maybe it was her, saying “Look!  I have something to show you! Please don’t gather up my fallen apples and put them in the trash.  For I have worked hard to produce them, and they are a bountiful feast for the deer and the opossum and the squirrel and the coyote.” I never raked up and disposed of a single fallen apple after that night.

Nor will I forget the sight of Ricky, a rescued German Shepherd Dog whom we had recently adopted, thoroughly enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures – snacking.  I smile when I remember the sight of that sweet old arthritic German Shepherd – with worn down teeth – quietly sashaying through the dappled shade of the pecan tree, making his way to the apple tree, browsing through the fallen apples, selecting the perfect one, trotting back up into the shady front yard, and lying down to enjoy his selection – core, seeds, stem and all.  A heartwarming simple pleasure for a sweet gentle boy who, a year earlier, had been left to starve by cruel stupid people who left him chained to the mobile home they had been evicted from – out in the middle of nowhere – without food or water.

And there is this…..

Thursday morning, hours before the storm arrived, I stood in the shade of the apple tree’s branches, somewhat reluctantly obliging our youngest dog while he rolled around and tossed and played with two small green apples he found lying in the grass.  As I stood there, the words “Tell my story” presented themselves very clearly to me.  And I thought “Yes, I should………I will.” Standing in that same spot on Friday morning, next to her snapped and broken trunk, I felt sad – my heart was heavy – and I felt like I too gave up, gave in, surrendered a little bit.  I gave in to some things that have been weighing heavy on my mind and in my heart.  And I gave up trying to figure it all out – fix it – see the positive – find the best solution.  I reached out and rested my hand on her fine cool bark and told her, “We will miss you.  And I surrendered a little bit today too.”

A little over a year ago, during a writing retreat, I wrote about my friend and our connection.  I’ll locate that notebook and post  the story here….soon.  For, it seems, now is the time to tell the story of The Apple Tree and Me.

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Can of Surprises

Surprise Can

I used to be afraid of the bumble bee.

Now I am afraid for the bumble bee. 

~ Nib Loblolly ~ 

I love rusty metal and galvanized tin.  There is a fair amount of both in our landscaping and on our property. (There is a dear husband of a certain dear friend of mine who may wince and shake his head if his wife reveals that I have announced my love of such metals on the world wide web. But that’s ok – he and I can agree on other “loves”, such as animals, pets, my friend, etc. 😊)

My admiration of galvanized and oxidized can be seen in my unconventional choices in garden containers. For example, I have a galvanized metal trash can that I’ve re-purposed into a large planting container.  Normally I plant some purple fountain grass and a couple of other heat-tolerant annuals in it.  But not this year. Other forces have been at work!  It has become my Can of Surprises.

First surprise: Early in April, an industrious pair of Carolina Wrens built a lovely little camouflaged nest amongst the dried foliage of last year’s fountain grass.  I was in “hands-off and observe-only” mode for several weeks while eggs were kept warm, chicks were hatched and fed, and then finally graduated to the great big world outside of the nest in the can.  Wow.  Graduation Day was nerve-wracking, as 5 little wrens came popping out of that tiny nest and scattered into bushes, onto windowsills, and into other flower pots.  Mom & Dad Wren were a  bit beside themselves, and so were our two dogs!

Surprise #2 & #3: While the wren family was occupying the can, some little wisps of green began to peek up and grow in the spot that the asparagus fern had occupied last summer. Yep, it was asparagus fern alright.  Hmmmm……I thought asparagus fern was an annual in any zone that receives below-freezing temps in winter? Then, another seedling began to grow quickly and bigley! As the stalk grew and grew, I guessed that it might have been sowed by one of our furry or feathered friends.  Yep! It’s the sunflower in the photo above – now with an inch-plus diameter stalk and eleven flowers! Most likely sprouted from a stray black oil sunflower seed that was carried off from the bird/squirrel feeders.  The bees and the goldfinches are loving it!

Surprise #4: Another volunteer seedling has appeared.  Alongside one of the morning glory seeds I poked down into the soil at the base of the sunflower stalk. After a couple of weeks of watering it, I see that it is a pokeweed plant.  No doubt from a seed deposited by a feathered friend.  The battle of the dark purple poke berries is not one I want to fight.  So, alas, it has to go.  I think the bright coral geranium our neighbor gave me will look nice in its place.

I’ll be keeping my eye on my Can of Surprises – as the morning glories twine their way up the teepee I made for them – who knows what other mysteries may unfold?

My Can of Surprises feels like another gentle nudge from Nature. 

A “look what we can do” statement. 

An invitation to open up to new ways of planting and co-existing and experiencing the miraculous wonder of life and the natural world. 

Acres and acres of land and expensive plantings not required.

All of this within the confines of a simple metal garbage can filled with potting mix. 

If you want to be inspired and forever-changed in regards to one particular miracle – the life of a bee – please feel free to listen to Colette O’Neill, co-creator of The Bealtaine Cottage Project in the west of Ireland, as she so eloquently relays a very important message.