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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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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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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Whispers in the Snow

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The empty chicken coop, with its door propped open and its aged red metal exterior, whispered to me. The sight of unbroken deep snow at the back edge of the yard, along the stream buffer, brought a little flutter of sadness, a soft tug in my heart.  No deer tracks, as there had been in prior years.  No feral kitty tracks.  No rabbit tracks.  No flock of frustrated Rhode Island Reds clustered in the doorway of the coop, yacking and complaining about the white stuff on the ground.

The chickens brought so much life to the “Back 40”. In my Grandpa’s lingo, the “Back 40” referred to the 40 acres of field behind his barn.  In my slice of the world, the “Back 40” refers to the 40 yard depth of natural wooded area at the back of our property.  Not only did the chickens bring their big personalities and their industriousness, but with their presence there was food, and a little food chain flourished in their area of the Back 40:

~ The mice that, no doubt, helped themselves to a bit of the chicken feed that spilled on to the floor of the coop ~

~ The feral yellow Mama Cat (named Dinner by our 3-legged Border Collie Mix – but that’s another story) and her many kittens who lived in, around, and under the neighbor’s outbuildings, dining on a steady supply of mice, well-fed and plump from chicken feed ~

~ The black snakes who had quite a racket going with fresh eggs offered up daily ~

~ The Red Shouldered Hawk family, nesting at the top of a tall pine across the road, soaring in ever-widening circles high in the sky, no doubt dining on the snakes and the mice who had been so well-fed by the chicken’s presence ~

As I stood just outside the back door of the house, admiring the beauty of the snow, missing my beautiful chickens, my thoughts turned to the hawk family.  I had not heard their piercing calls recently, nor noticed them circling in the sky.  I had not recently noticed the hawks perched in their usual vantage points, hunting along the stream. The unusual and frequent summer & fall flooding of that stream had very likely drowned or swept away many of the frogs, toads, snakes, etc. who lived in the nooks and crannies along the steep bank.  I wondered if the hawks had moved elsewhere to find food, or, if they too had been swept away or injured in the tropical force winds or torrential downpours.

I stood there in the snow, wondering about them. Thinking back to our first winter here, noticing them daily, watching through binoculars as they took turns flying food up to their nestlings in the tall pine across the road. In that moment, I realized how much delight their continued presence had brought to our lives. And, how, as with many neighborly relationships, there were “complications”.  For, on more than one occasion (and far more than I was aware of, I’m sure), the hawks set their sights on my chickens.  There was no delight in those moments.

Those were moments in which the normally docile grey haired woman morphed into a screaming banshee – running to the rescue, waiving her arms or whatever towel, rake, or walking stick that might be handy, clapping, hooting and hollering all the way. Those were moments in which the Mother Hen in me switched in to high gear.  Those were moments in which both the hawk and my neighbors undoubtedly thought I had lost my mind. Thankfully, although the hawks traumatized the flock on a fairly regular basis, and tore up a couple of the girls pretty badly, none of the chickens perished due to hawk inflicted injuries.

The girls (and I) learned to tune in to the warning calls and behaviors of the wild birds, the neighborhood gang of crows, and the squirrels.  We learned that the hawks usually hunted along the creek and from the trees near the chicken yard twice a day – at about 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. and again about an hour or two before dusk. The girls developed a morning routine of fanning out and foraging near cover and in close proximity to the coop.  Late in the day, toward dusk, the hawks seemed disinterested in the chickens, and by that time of the day the girls were usually hanging out under the huge Japanese Holly bush that we called The Chicken Bush, or they were already in the coop, getting settled and ready to roost for the night.

It worked out.  We all co-existed. 

As I stood in the snow, late in the day on Thursday, the chicken coop whispering to me, my head and my heart full of memories of Rhode Island Reds and Red Shouldered Hawks, I felt that unbroken snow along the stream buffer beckoning me, enticing me to break through the ice encrusted top layer, leave some footprints of my own.

I made my way to the earthen bridge, each step crunching as my boot broke through the icy crust. The water in the creek was gurgling happily as it swirled around and over the rocks and exposed tree roots along the bank.  There was twittering and the sound of wings flapping as songbirds rose out of the cover along the stream bank and into the tree branches above.

I stopped at The Chicken Bush, near the gate, its branches laid low and sprawling under the weight of the wet snow.  A large rabbit broke from her cover, popped through the fence, and headed for overgrowth behind the neighbor’s tractor shed. I walked to the grapevine arbor and looked all around for signs of wild neighbors – paw prints, hoof prints – there were none.  I turned toward the chicken coop, stopping to free a couple of Redbud saplings from their heavy snow burden.  As I approached the door of the coop I expected a couple of little wrens or nuthatches to drop down from the roost above the door and zoom past my head.  Nope. Nobody.

The coop stood silent and dim inside, only the sound of a slow drip from snow melting above the entry.  Standing there, looking in, I wondered why the coop had whispered to me.  Was there something I was missing? I stood there for a moment, listening to the drip drip in the dim entry, and then turned and crunch, crunched my way back past The Chicken Bush and to the earthen bridge.

And then, there she was! Swooping and banking along the creek and through the tree branches.  I could hear the sound of the air in her wings as she pulled up and landed on the lowest branch of a young oak, not more than 15 feet from where I was crunching along.  I froze, drew in my breath sharply.  I had seen her dark eye as she steered toward her landing spot.  But now her head and her view of me was blocked by the trunk of the young tree.  I could see her fluttering her striped tail feathers – shaking them from side to side as she sat there, focusing on the creek bank, waiting for some small prey to move.  I remained absolutely still, a knot forming in my throat. Never having been so close, I literally felt her presence.

Beautiful Sister

Deadly Hunter

Fragile Miracle

Soaring Majesty

Buteo Lineatus

For some reason, I wanted to let my presence be known as well.  So I slowly leaned to my right and peaked around the tree trunk.  She caught sight of me, I saw the flash of recognition in her beautiful dark eye, and with a surprised little muffled squawk/gurgle, she rose from the branch, spread her wings, and disappeared among the trees lining the creek bank.

I stood there a moment longer, exhaled, and a smile started to form. I chuckled as I started my crunch, crunching back to the house. For I’m sure I heard her say “Eek!! It’s YOU!!  The crazy grey-haired banshee woman!” (wink)

My hand on the door latch, I turned toward the creek, wished her successful hunting, and thanked that little red chicken shed for whispering me back to the chicken yard, late in that snowy grey day, about an hour before dusk.

Be still

Listen to the whispering in your heart

And know that it is the voice of all life

– Nib Loblolly –


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Little Bits of Goodness – December 1

Each day comes bearing its own gifts.  Untie the ribbons!

– Ruth Ann Schabacker –

 

Holiday Greetings to You!

Is there Someone in Your Life who could use a good excuse to slow down & snuggle up with a good book on a Winter’s afternoon?

Could that Someone even be You?

Do you have a favorite book by a local author?  Perhaps you have a treasured book on your shelf that you would like to share with a loved one?

 Inscribe a dated personal message inside.  Include a hand-made bookmark, or a length of beautiful ribbon.  Pair with a soft throw or a small quilt and wrap both in a lovely bow. Include a message in your best handwriting – “Untie the ribbon and enjoy the Gift in The Day!”

If you are interested in finding / reading “local”, independent bookstores usually have a section devoted to writers from the area.  Art & craft galleries often sell self-published books by regional writers.  And gift shops / visitor’s centers at state & national parks in the U.S. sell books written by regional folks as well.  Many of these locations have special holiday events with author signings, food, wine, or music.  Shopping with small businesses and shopping local not only supports your local economy, but the experience of it is also a gift to yourself!

So, if shopping in an Indie bookstore with a really catchy name appeals to you (as it does to me!), here are a few of my favorites.  Although nothing can really compare to browsing through the stacks & taking in the ambience of the space, I believe most sell books on-line as well. (Just to be clear, NO kickbacks, commissions, or credits for me here! These are simply independent booksellers that I personally enjoy shopping with.)

Battenkill Books – Cambridge, NY

Flyleaf Books – Chapel Hill, NC

McIntyre’s Books @ Fearrington Village – Pittsboro, NC

Persnickety Books – Burlington, NC

Purple Crow Books – Hillsborough, NC

Scuppernong Books – Greensboro, NC

 

 


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Of a Frosty Morn

It twas a wee bit frosty here this morning – alright, downright cold – but the clear blue sky and the golden light beckoned to me and encouraged me to bring my camera!

I continue to be amazed by the abundant seasonal beauty that reveals itself on this little patch of ground.  It was the chickens and the dogs who drew me in to it initially.  And I thank them for it.

 

As a child, I was an avid observer of nature – the environment surrounding a space, the sounds, the smells, the light.  I would spend hours wandering about my grandparent’s farm, observing the sheep from a perch on the pasture gate, exploring the barn, the edges of field, the garden…..swinging endlessly on the old wooden swing beneath the branches of a stout maple tree….dozing on the porch swing, enveloped in the crisp clean scent of the bridal wreath blossoms, listening to the bees busily collecting pollen and nectar.

Early and mid adulthood took me in other directions, and while I still always enjoyed my time outdoors in nature – in my yard, on walks, during vacation trips – I became more of a traveler through it, most of the time with a destination in mind or a task to be completed.

And then, at about age 50, the chickens and the dogs brought me back to nature; encouraged me to linger there – to just be.

Look up, look down, look closely.

Be aware of the sounds, the songs, and the warning calls of the wild birds.

Feel the curve of the dogwood tree that perfectly cradles my back when I lean against it.

Notice the abundance all around. 

I began to take note of how the tension in my neck and shoulders eased upon arrival.  How it was easier to straighten my spine, pull my shoulders back, and take a deep breath.  How the sounds of the hens cooing and clucking, scratching and pecking, soothed my frayed edges.  How observing the dogs using all of their senses – to communicate with one another and to detect the environmental details of their surroundings – reminds me that there is wisdom far greater than ours all around us, each day, each minute, each second.

This morning I spent some time resting back against the dogwood tree.

Listening to the wild birds and the squirrels going about their business.

Drinking in the golden light.

Remembering the hens and the pups who gently pulled me back to linger awhile with Mother Nature. 

And I thanked them for it.