Season Changes

Ice forming on the surface of the pond yesterday, like wrinkles over the water. You can see stones around the water in a ring.
Ice was forming on the surface of the pond yesterday.

Yesterday felt like the true turning of the seasons, from warm autumn 70 degree days to a chilly, almost winter, high of 40 degrees. We had a freeze overnight and the pond surface was wrinkled with ice forming. I went around the yard putting away the last garden hose, the five-gallon buckets, the little tables we use in the back next to chairs. I turned over the wheelbarrows behind the garage. I covered our patio table and chairs with a tarp, and I plugged in the bird bath so it will keep water thawed during frozen weather. I got out the snow shovel and sand mixture to put on the back porch. I left 4 chairs around the fire circle–maybe we’ll get outside around a fire–it could happen!

Last Thursday was my last time lying in the hammock for the season. I could see two frogs still hanging out in the pond, the color of mud, not the green of summer. While I was lying there, suddenly I saw a huge bird flying nearby, up to the pine trees at the back near our yard. Looking closer, I recognized the characteristic shape of a turkey! It was dusk and the light was turning all black and white and shades of gray. We’ve had a little trio wandering in the yard during the last few weeks, so I am guessing this was one of them. I had to put the hammock away the next day.

Turkey in a pine tree at dusk, mostly black and white silhouette.
Turkey in a pine tree at dusk

This morning, we had a bit of snow, mixed with rain, so here we are. The gardening work, whether fully complete or not, is done for the season. And I was inspired to get back to my winter project–going through boxes of old papers in the basement. I am proud of myself for diving into it today!

Last winter, I went through 11 boxes from my years in Boston, organized, winnowed, and reduced them to four. I had just started on some boxes from the time before I moved there. This winter, I will go through papers from my time at the Women’s Peace Camp, and in Chicago, and in Grand Rapids. I went to Chicago from Grand Rapids in 1983 to attend Chicago Theological Seminary, from which I graduated in 1986. I visited the Peace Camp in the summer of 1983, and then lived there in the summer of 1985, and winter/summer 1986. These places were the scenes of my coming out as a lesbian, and my trying to figure out what ministry might look like for someone like me. At the time I had left the Catholic church, and was part of the emerging feminist spirituality movement. I experienced so much transformation during those years, and I am fascinated to read what I wrote about it. It was a season of profound personal change.

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Lunar Eclipse

I woke at 3 a.m. and saw the bright full moon through my window. I woke again at 5:30 a.m., but could not see the eclipsed red moon because it was hiding low in the sky behind the many trees and buildings around our house. Still, I dreamt about the lunar eclipse all through the night. First I saw it like a giant pale cookie with a bite taken out. Then I was talking about it with others, and talking about other lunar eclipses. In my dream, I told someone about the memorable total eclipse on the night when the Red Sox were winning the world series for the first time in 86 years. That was October, 2004. We lived on Cape Cod. We were watching the baseball game, and periodically, I’d go out the front door to watch the eclipse. In my dream, I talked about how one of the effects of being old was that I remembered other lunar eclipses, and didn’t have as great a need to see this one. In a later dream, a group of people were getting ready to create a ritual to honor the moon–children, adults of all ages–and I was getting a drink of water, and then, trying to find a mug to hold more water to bring to the ritual, but everything in the cupboard was plastic or otherwise weird. Random people, both known and unknown to me. When I woke up, my cat Billie was at the window looking outside, but neither of us could see the moon. Still, we were feeling it I think. Yesterday, Margy and I filled in and dropped off our election ballots at the City Hall dropbox, and then we drove to Kettle Cove to be with the ocean. The weather was warm, sunny. I took my shoes off and waded in the water on the shore, took some photos of rocks and seagulls. We gathered seaweed to bring back to the garden. But mostly, we just sat in chairs on the sand, and listened to the surf, felt the breeze on our skin.
Seagull standing on the sandy wet shore, with surf rolling in on the right side.
A lunar eclipse feels like a transition, an omen–but for good or ill? The 2004 eclipse was good news for the Red Sox. Undoing the reputed curse of the bambino. But election day is not like a sports game, despite the way the media often frame it. Lives are at stake. When I was quite young, I was a sort of anarchist, and I heard the Emma Goldman quote, “If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal.” I am less dismissive with age. Even if I am voting for the lesser of two evils, I will do so. And I think of the people who died to bring the vote to women and to black Americans. They knew it was that important. But perhaps the quote holds true now, because there are politicians who are trying to make voting illegal–at least for the people they are trying to exclude. Still, I don’t hold with fear-mongering. No matter what, we keep doing whatever we can do, with whatever energy we have, for justice, against oppression, for compassion and respect for all beings. We can’t see the future, we can’t know what wonders might emerge over the horizon. As Rebecca Solnit reminds us, that is a source for hope.
Dark gray huge boulders on a rocky shore with ocean water behind, fading out into the horizon.

Gratitude for the Ordinary

Goldenrod gone to seed.
Goldenrod gone to seed

The last few weeks have been full of ordinary tasks around the house and yard. Sometimes we forget to be grateful for these very ordinary things. I think about people whose lives have been disrupted by war, by floods, by fire, by despots. Margy and I are able to do our ordinary tasks and ordinary meals and ordinary rest, undisrupted, and for that I am grateful.

A couple weeks ago, I painted the trunks of the orchard trees, to protect against winter sunburn and insects. This time I used a half and half mix of white milk paint and “Surround”–both powders that are mixed in water. I don’t know if it is really necessary–certainly I see fruit trees around the neighborhood without anything on them. But one morning, I had the energy and decided to try out the mixture. Surround is a kind of porcelain clay organic product that can disrupt certain insects. Last summer, I sprayed the fruit trees with it, and they remained light colored all winter. This summer I didn’t do any sprays like that, but why not try it as a winter paint? So that was one little project.

Peach tree with white paint on trunk.
Peach tree with white paint on trunk.

I’ve been using the skimmer to clear leaves off the pond, and then I also have been cutting off the dead stalks of pond plants. I got into the pond one day, placing my feet very carefully down to the second step in, and lifted the pond lily pot, then dropped it down to the deepest part of the pond. The deepest part is 2 1/2 feet, so I am hoping that the hardy lily might survive the winter this way. And maybe in the spring it will need to be lifted back out, or maybe it will just reach its leaves up to the surface from there. I asked Margy to watch with me, just in case I slipped. But I didn’t! A few frogs are still hanging out, since the weather has been unseasonably warm still.

Since we had an extra weekend of warm weather, I finally painted the upper beam of the roof on our deck. Some of the wood had been left bare when a friend put in the roof, a few years ago, so protecting it has been on the long-term to-do list. Happily, there was some primer in our basement that I could use, leftover from the prior owners. It took three days, and each day after working on it for only a couple hours I was dead exhausted. But it is done today!

Deck beam half painted and half still undone bare wood, with a ladder underneath.
Deck beam half painted and half still undone bare wood.

Meanwhile, we’ve been filling in our absentee ballots, and researching the details of 13 referenda questions for our city of Portland, as well as the candidates running for office. I am grateful for democracy, as flawed as it might be practiced, and pray that we’ll still be able to have a democracy going forward. Rising fascism in our country has been alarming and discouraging, as well as the attack on the bodily autonomy of women, and the threats to such importance common goods as Social Security and Medicare. So much of my life’s work has been about expanding the benefits of democracy to those who have been excluded, fighting for equality and justice and liberation for myself as well as others. My work has included criticism of the way that our democracy has been incomplete, flawed, and unjust. But I think of voting as harm reduction–I may criticize candidates and policies, but I will vote for those who will do the least damage. Right now, with the Republican party being taken over by fascists, that means voting for Democrats across the board. So I am extra appreciative these days of the ordinary benefits we can take for granted, and pray that many many people will be moved to vote to keep those benefits.

Prayer to a Migrating Bird

Migrating geese in the sky, seen near the pitch pine.

You are a teacher for a time like this—

you who claim more than one home,

navigating each season by the compass

of yearning planted within your DNA

You know your destinations, no stranger

—I have heard it said—you return always

to the very sedges from which you depart.

You are a teacher for a people like this—

we who hesitate to claim any home,

yearning always, contrary wisdoms planted

like magnets in the dark, stretching

our souls across miles and languages

—strange cries echo in our throats—

tearing our arms apart with reaching.

You are a teacher for a journey like this—

your rhythms carry me through long stretches

in the white winter of my perennial flight

I remember there are seasons for departing

and returning, homes we locate by yearning

—planted like polar gravities in the wind—

your silent languages cry to my wandering wings.

Letting Go

Flag iris leaves in the pond changing color, and reflected

The many-colored transformations of autumn plants remind me of the beauty in the spiritual practice of letting go. As the leaves let go of their green chlorophyl, so their deep colors are revealed. When I feel encumbered by heavy memories, mistakes, failures. When I feel regret for things undone, unsung, I pray in this way. I take all the feelings and memories and release them into the loving hands of Spirit. Ego desires for acknowledgement, success. I let go. Ego wounds from rejections, betrayals. I let go. Loneliness, weariness, I let go.

Spirit, here I am, all imperfect, yet gifted, all hungering for justice, yet broken with this land and country. I sit alone, yet I feel your presence, and I turn to you, again and again. I let go. I am small, but I am surrounded by and filled with your Love. There is a time for action, and there is also a time for surrender. I surrender to the River flowing. In this surrender there is trust and peace.

Someday, I will let go into the mystery of eternity, the mystery that is death. Each night, I let go into the mystery that is sleep. Each morning, I let go of what is not mine for this day, and I open to what blessings and what actions are here for me to take up. I am too small to try to carry the world. And yet, in this surrender, I am at one with all of the beings who surround me, people, animals, plants, spirits. We are all flowing in the River of Love.

Part of the Landscape

I was stretched out, lying in the hammock, with my feet up, listening to an audio version of “Olive, Again.” Suddenly a chickadee landed on my black sneaker, and started pecking inquisitively around the seams. I wish I could have snapped a photo, but he was gone again in just a minute. I guess I must have seemed like a part of the landscape then. I can’t imagine a better way of being perceived!

Or maybe I might be seen as a friendly or annoying neighbor? The other day, a chipmunk was stuffing her cheeks at the bird feeder, and I decided to chase her away so the birds could get some too. I walked toward the feeder, and she just stayed put. I actually reached out and gently touched her back–at which point, she flew off the feeder and took off toward the pitch pine tree. Then, yesterday, I was lying in the hammock, and a chipmunk was perched on the trunk of the pitch pine, chattering at me. I wondered if it might be the same one.

Or maybe it was the one that a few weeks ago was walking across the patio in what seemed like a drunken haze–she would go a few feet and than fall over on her side. I thought perhaps she was injured, and wondered about taking her to a wildlife center. I set a small box into her pathway and she ran right into it. But after doing a bit of research, the recommendation seemed to be to generally let them take care of themselves, so I released her and she ran into a nearby chipmunk hole. I hope she recovered!

The chipmunk on the patio next to our deck stairs

I’ve also been doing a few small projects in the yard. The biggest project was to change the level of the outflow channel for the pond. I removed the stones covering the channel near the edge of the pond, and lifted up the linings, and raised the opening a couple inches. I was thinking that perhaps having a couple more inches of water depth in the pond might help it over-winter better. Last year several plants didn’t survive. I filled it to the new level with water from two rain barrels and then put back stones over the channel top again. Probably no one else would notice the difference, but I am glad that I did it. I also went around and cut off dead leaves from the pond plants, and pulled out some more algae. I was sorry to disturb the frogs’ familiar habitat, but they seem to be doing fine now.

Pond with 2 inch higher level of water, (plus the scissors used to cut dead plants.)

Today, I harvested some more thyme, rinsed it, and put it into the herb dryer. I’ve harvested kale and broccoli for cooking, chives to cut up and freeze. Last week I harvested licorice roots. I scrubbed them well, cut them up into tiny pieces and put them in the herb dryer too.

Licorice root after washing

Today was a lovely warm day, so good to be outside, to be part of the landscape. Tomorrow it will be colder, and that is harder for me. But I am trying to enjoy this season of autumn, not just as a time of preparing for winter, but a graceful time of its own, all the golden leaves, harvest time. Harvest time for so many of the creatures all around us.

So Many Small Birds!

Two goldfinches on an evening primrose stalk

I feel such delight in all the small birds that love to be in our yard. Yesterday morning, the gold finches were all over the evening primrose stalks, eating seeds. Native self-seeded wildflowers for the win! Then I saw a few little brown ones–maybe sparrows–taking a bath in a puddle in the driveway, after the good rain we had the day before. Here is one drying off afterwards.

Sparrow after a bath, sitting on the deck rail.

He turned around while I was looking from the back door. So cute I had to share both photos!

Sparrow after a bath, on the deck rail, facing me.

The little birds just love our garden, our trees and bushes, our wildflowers, and we love them. If I had to pick just one sort of critter, birds are my folks! It makes me so happy that they are happy here!

One more bit of good news. The mama turkey has come back a couple times with her baby, after the horrible incident in our yard where her other baby was killed by a neighbor cat. We’re glad to see they are doing well.

Mama and baby turkey in the grass.

Peach Abundance

Peaches are ripening, bright red and yellow, crowded together on the branches.

Those of you who perhaps followed my peach tree saga last year might remember that after hours and hours of tending–including several organic sprays, thinning the small green peaches, putting little mesh bags on the remaining ones–the squirrels ran off with every single green peach, or knocked them off the branches as they tried to get into the bags. We got zero peaches to eat.

Well this year, I didn’t have the heart or energy to do all that tending. I did one holistic spray early in the season. I felt very non-attached to any outcome, since one might assume that squirrels would eat them all again. But that didn’t happen. A few weeks ago, I started picking a few small random peaches, so that others would have more room to grow, and the branches wouldn’t break under their weight–but only a few at a time, not systemically. I put them in paper bags, which is the actual way to help them ripen. (Not on window sills as I had previously thought.) A few weeks ago, the squirrels started eating some peaches too, sitting in the tree, or taking ones with broken spots that I left on the patio table. I found their leavings on the deck railing. It was fun.

Broken peach bits on the deck railing.

But they didn’t take all the peaches. And the peaches started to really ripen. Now they are bright red and yellow, crowded though they are on the branches. Now, we are processing all the bags of ripening peaches in the house, as well as gathering peaches literally dropping from the tree. I have cut them in slices to freeze–first on a tray, and then put into freezer bags. Yesterday I made a gluten free peach cobbler. We have invited friends and neighbors over to share in the abundance. More people are coming by this weekend. This morning, I saw this little bird pecking for its delicious breakfast. There is plenty to share!

Bird eating a peach on the tree.

I feel grateful and humbled by this turn of events. Sometimes gardening feels like a battle between the gardener and the “pests.” I didn’t have the heart to try too hard to fight this battle this season. (And our cucumbers and zucchinis are succumbing to bugs-so it goes.) I was surprised that the peaches thrived so well without my efforts. I was surprised that the squirrels took some, and it seems they felt okay about sharing. Maybe they sensed that we were not enemies this time. Margy and I feel so good to be able to give them away to others. The garden is such a great mystery! I continue to feel humble and grateful by all it teaches us.

Oh, and here is the recipe for gluten-free peach cobbler. I searched the internet, and then adapted this one from several I had seen:

Peach Cobbler: preheat oven to 375 degrees

Slice peaches and place in a lightly buttered 9 x 13 pan. Basically use enough to cover the bottom well, or more if you like. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and a tiny bit of ground cloves.

Whisk together 1 & 3/4 cup almond flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Blend together 1 large egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/4 cup Greek whole milk yogurt, and 2 tablespoons softened butter. Add that to the flour mixture and blend, and then spoon over the peaches–it won’t cover them completely, but spread it around as you can. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Remove and let cool a bit so you don’t burn your tongue. You can serve as is, or with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Peach cobbler in a glass pan, with some pieces removed.

Rain, lilies, and tiny frogs

White water lily blooming in pond.

We finally got two solid rain storms this past week after a long drought. What a relief! And now four very tiny frogs have appeared in the pond. (I don’t know what happened to the one we had before that was a little bigger.) A few days ago, this new water lily flower started blooming, and today when I went out to see it, it had disappeared. But I found three of the tiny frogs perched on lily pads! The fourth was on the other side of the pond on a rock. I didn’t look too closely under the water to investigate the missing flower, so as not to scare the frogs.

But slowly I sat down near the edge of the pond and watched for a while. A dragonfly came and perched on blue flag iris leaves. The frogs stayed on their pads.

Tiny frog on a lily pad
Second tiny frog on another lily pad

Taking close-up photos makes the frogs appear larger than they really are. They are only about an inch long nose to backside. I wonder if maybe it was the rain that enabled these small frogs to travel from some other place to our little pond? I feel refreshed by the rain too. Cool nights with windows open, listening to the dark sounds. Lovely.

To Be of Use

Chipmunk drinking at the pond

Yesterday morning, I was sitting next to the pond, writing in my journal. After I’d been there, and quiet for a long time, this chipmunk approached the other side of the pond, climbed down the rocks and took long drinks of water. After a couple minutes, it quickly climbed back up the rocks and ran back into the field behind.

If you’ve been following my posts recently, you know that I’ve been dealing with chronic illness causing me to have much less energy this summer. So my relationship with the garden has changed. It has been less purposeful and project oriented, and more, “Let’s see what the yard wants to do this season.” To listen more, to do less, to observe more, to try less–and I’ve learned so much, actually.

It’s true that we had already done a lot to shape the yard–we planted many fruit trees and bushes, let wildflowers grow, planted perennials, pulled invasives, and created the pond last year. Some of the plants that were in the pond didn’t survive the winter, and I did add a few more this spring. But it wasn’t enough to prevent algae from flourishing. So periodically, I get inspired to pull out as much as I can. But I’ve also noticed that bees love to perch on the algae, to get a drink of water presumably. (There is always enough algae left for them.) It gives me gratitude to know that this pond, imperfect though it is, has been of use to these creatures in a drought-burdened summer.

Bees on green algae

Lately, my old nemesis the squirrel has come back to start eating peaches. But since I was doing so much less to nurture the peach tree–less holistic sprays, less thinning of peaches, and so on–and since I had somewhat resigned myself to having no peaches after last year, I haven’t been stressed out about that. And the squirrel or squirrels seem more mellow as well. The peaches are actually very crowded together, and every couple days, I twist off a few tightly squeezed ones, even though they are not ripe yet, to make room for the others to grow bigger. I’ve put a few on window sills in the house to see if they will ripen. I tell myself the squirrel is also thinning the peaches. We are collaborators, rather than enemies. Who knows, maybe there will be enough for all of us?

Squirrel sitting on a branch in the peach tree nibbling on a green peach.

In a world with so many horrors that I can do nothing to stop, or even to protest, I am grateful to be of use to these small companions who share our back yard with us.

[And thanks to Marge Piercy‘s poem, To Be of Use, for its evocative and helpful title.]