Of Scilla and Scratches

Today is a bit cooler than yesterday’s 85 degrees, and it’s our official day in the gardens.

We mixed up an enormous cart full of potting soil so that many houseplants can get repotted. Emily is in charge of this project, leaving me free to turn my attention to battling the Roses. I have been out there with the Roses off and on this last week of heat, hurrying to get done what usually waits until at least April to get my attention. But it feels like the Roses are going to need their compost and manure sooner than later. This means I have to sort out what’s going on out there so I don’t feed plants I am just going to cut out.

The old fashioned shrub Roses we have here are very vigorous, unlike tea Roses, and they like nothing better than sending out suckers into other Roses’ territory. As far as I can tell, some of the Roses here seem to make this their primary reason for being. This means I spend a lot of time sorting out who’s who and who belongs where (AND WHO DOESN’T!). Then I tie the Roses up onto their trellises and cut out the rogue suckers in between the plants.

Much as I try and cover myself with leather gloves up to my elbows and other protective gear when I do this work, it is just too darn hot. Especially this year with its July temperatures! Without really noticing it, I find myself taking off the equipment only to get whacked by a Rose cane or five. I look a bit torn up right about now. A bloody mess is how others might put it!

But this can hardly temper the exhilaration of this moment! What’s a few hundred scratches when the gardens are already flooded with so many spring Flowers and the Roses all tidy and ready to translate all this attention into a similar gush of Flowers later this season.

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These Hellebores weren’t even out of the ground a few days ago and now they look like Scarlett O’Hara heading off to the picnic to flirt with the Tarleton twins.
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And the carpet of Scilla Siberica in the Arbor Garden makes me almost as happy as it makes the bees!

A Spring of Firsts

This spring has brought many awesome and surprising firsts.

The maple syruping season ended after a rollicking three weeks with some excellent sap runs in the usually too cold early March. Then a series of above freezing nights brought the season to an abrupt and unusually early end. It was a first to put away our sap buckets before St Patrick’s Day!

In the gardens, it has also been all about firsts. Yesterday, I spent the day tying up Rose canes and pruning back Rose runners in the Rose garden. I have never even approached the Roses in March, let alone wrangled them into some semblance of organization. Usually they are still under snow!

So many spring Flowers have arrived in the gardens weeks ahead of usual! The honeybees are out and about buried in Crocus, Snowdrops, Winter Aconite, Iris Reticulata and Scilla Siberica. From the office, we watch them bomb into the hives with enormous balls of pollen on their legs! Bee happiness!
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Last night, to end our weekend doing garden chores, we settled down to a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner for a slightly late celebration of St Patrick’s Day. It was too hot a meal for the hot hot night! With sunburned faces over steaming bowls, we did our best to chow down, but it felt like a winter dish on a summer night. It was definitely a first to have this meal feel so out of place for an evening in March!

Our hilltop has had some unusual first time mud issues. High temperatures meant an early and intense mud season that blew out the roads all over our town. While our road has often been impassable during mud season, the first for us was a mudslide right out front of the farm that created a crazy wave of mud the likes of which I have never seen before. More cars than I can count got stuck in this wave, and it gave us cause to use all kinds of unlikely surf lingo in discussing the prospects of anyone getting to work or being able to leave to go home.

I have saved the best first for last…..Our happiest and most wonderful first is the engagement of Elizabeth to Miguel Ramirez.

While this will come as no surprise to anyone who read her book, Elizabeth met Miguel because of the Camino.

A Green Hope friend who read Lizzy’s book, The Trail, then decided to walk the Camino early last summer. On this friend’s Camino she met Miguel and was sure Miguel and Elizabeth were meant to meet. Miguel had been living in France, England and Kenya for the last eight years. He had done a stretch of the Camino right before Elizabeth’s first Camino, then returned to the Camino to finish it right before Elizabeth walked her third Camino. They missed each other by a few short days at several points! However the Camino prevailed kindness of this Green Hope friend and they met after all!

The courtship began in Miguel’s hometown of Austin, Texas and led to a marriage proposal out in the hayfields of Green Hope Farm on the eve of Lizzy’s birthday in early February.

Now we are knee deep in planning a garden wedding celebration! It is a most happy of firsts for all of us as we all love Miguel and are so happy he is going to be a part of our lives!

The Life of Riley

Our beloved golden retriever Riley died yesterday.

He was the nicest living creature I have ever known. Not a mean bone in his body. I don’t even think he ever had a mean thought either. He was, quite simply, a love muffin. His heart was wide open and his spirit joyful- right to the very end.

While the kids took the dogs for runs, I was responsible for the lunchtime walk detail. Riley and his sister MayMay got this walk pretty much every day of their lives. Even on his last legs, Riley went with us yesterday. I have been letting him choose which direction our walks would take for awhile now, and yesterday he choose his favorite route.

He clearly relished the whole thing. While he had stopped eating, he still had to visit all the neighbor’s compost heaps for a deep breath of the wonderful aroma of rotten food . Several times he set up his usual game with MayMay involving him fruitlessly trying to get ahead of her on the road. He rolled in every pile of deer poop in every field we passed. This took some time but how happy I was to watch every roll. At one point, he got himself down in a pothole full of muddy water for a serious submersion. It was the most horrible looking water, and he enjoyed every drop of it.

It’s Jim’s February school “vacation” week, so he had just sanded and refinished all the floors in the downstairs of the house. The varnish was just dry yesterday when Riley returned from his last walk. We all had to laugh that Riley felt called upon to christen each floor with a shake of his muddy coat. We may well leave the spatters there for awhile.

Riley had a very odd little prancing step for such a big guy and he kept that swing going til the last moment, tail wagging as well. It was a particularly warm afternoon for February and after his long walk, he sat out front of the office, sniffing the breeze in the sunshine. Everyone got a chance to go sit with him and tell him thank you and goodbye.

We have all been intent on taking the cue from Riley about how and when he wanted to die. He had outlived our kind vet’s best guess by many months, but we didn’t want to drag him into a life that was about terrible pain. I spent a lot of time connecting with Riley about what he wanted and because I was so close to the situation and therefore not very objective, I leaned on a number of you to check in for me as well. I thank you all for your support and love.

Riley helped me be at peace with our game plan too. One day a few months back, I was out on my lunchtime walk with Riley and MayMay. I was thinking about his health and fretting about whether I would know if or when to put him down. In that moment, I received a clear message that he would be okay until he stopped eating and that would be his signal that it was time to be put down. As I had this thought, Riley stopped right in front of me and turned around and looked me in the eye.

Later in the walk, I began to worry about whether I had heard clearly. As I had this worry, Riley stopped AGAIN and turned to look me in the eye. Riley was not a dog to waste time with long eye contact on walks; walks were for things like mud and deer poop. He saved the romance for evenings on the couch, so his eye contact felt significant and helped me let go of my worries.

From then on, we waited for him to stop eating and when that happened several days ago (no matter what delicacies we offered him or Essences we put in his water), we gave nearby Riley fans the word, and they flocked in for love visits and goodbyes.

Sometimes it is still hard not to second guess ourselves when we have arrived at a decision. The Angels are always so compassionate with us humans in this regard, and they think of inventive ways to reassure. Yesterday as we prepared to put Riley in the car for his last trip to the vet, one of the women in the office came running out with an email that had just arrived from one of you who had no idea Riley was sick. It was a picture of a golden who looked exactly like Riley with a poem about a dog’s last will and testament.

Piled into the car, we all continued to douse ourselves in Transition through what proved to be an incredibly gentle, sweet death. If we sound sympathetic to your losses in the phone when one of your beloveds goes, its because we are having to walk our talk. Today we lift our glasses of pink Flower Essence water to Riley!

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Adventure!

A lot of things and people and places have fallen away from our family in the last decade. Sometimes it has felt like nothing but an emptying out, and sometimes the losses have led to wonderful and unexpected new beginnings.

These new beginnings remind me that if everything that was lost had remained in our life, we might not have set off to unexplored territories, territories that have been tremendously meaningful to us. The emptiness made us bold in unexpected ways and pushed us to new horizons.

Take for example the Camino. Though only Ben and Elizabeth walked the Camino, it has filled all our lives with stories and images, spiritual gifts and a feeling of having been on their bold adventure with them, if only from the peanut gallery.

Reading and rereading the drafts of Elizabeth’s book, learning the towns and places strung along the trail, studying the gifts of the Camino Essences linked as they are to these now familiar places, then connecting it all to Lizzy and Ben’s adventures and the pilgrims they met- It has made me feel a part of something bigger than myself- and in a life where travel has not figured greatly, this has been wonderfully expansive and fun.

From childhood, I always felt reading a great book or listening to a tale well told had the tang of adventure even for the listener. I am grateful I feel this way about Ben and Lizzy’s Camino tales.

There is a marvelous scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the NASA engineers in Houston are given a pile of exactly the same odds and end that are onboard the apparently doomed space ship. They are told that they need to solve the ventilation problems on the spaceship with what is there before them then walk the astronauts through their own construction of a gizmo built from these random odds and ends. Everyone understands that this is the only way to save the astronauts. And as we know, the engineer’s ingenuity wins the day and the astronauts survive.

Today is Jim’s birthday and I am excited about a project we took on for his birthday. It speaks to armchair adventures as well as making do with what is, trying to accept a loss as well as move on from it.

The loss on my mind today as I assemble Jim’s birthday gift is the place in the Adirondacks. It was six miles up a lake by boat with no electricity and no roads. This made it a place of wilderness and adventure for all of us, no less so for Jim who spent two summer building a four bedroom sleeping cabin next to the original camp, carrying every last piece of lumber up the lake in a jury rigged barge.

One much loved detail in the original camp was that the bedroom walls were lined with covers from a pulp magazine called Adventure. Collected in the 1920’s and 1930’s by my grandfather and his sister, these covers were much studied by generations of children. We would lie in our camp beds under heavy blankets and point our flashlights at one cover after another. It was always a bit of an adventure to go up the creaking stairs to our beds, but peering at these covers in the dark sent us further into a delicious state of terror.

Many covers showed vicious characters chasing someone down. In one memorable cover a very scary looking man was coming out from a cargo hold with a knife in his teeth. Pirates abounded as did cowboys encircled by cigarette smoke and understandable hostile Indians about to do them in. The covers so often caught the moment of ultimate tension in a story.

The particularly haunting ones were the ones where you knew the guy on the cover was not going to make it. There were a number of covers showing a solitary arctic explorer in the middle of nowhere, heading to his own frozen death. These pictures were almost the scariest because they had such a palpable sense of loneliness.

I used to look at every last cover each night before falling asleep. Some were so frightening that my heart would start pounding before the flashlight’s beam met its image. When I was little, I always slept in my grandfather’s childhood bedroom so my grandfather’s covers were much more familiar to me. In later years when I ended up in my great aunt’s room, there was a whole new collection of terrifying images to memorize.

It occurred to me one day that perhaps I could find Adventure covers on the internet to put on the walls of the new bathroom in a surprise birthday moment for Jim. I had taken on a similar project last year when I decided to find each of the kids a copy of a much loved fairy tale book, read every summer on the Adirondack camp porch.

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Boy cousins, brothers, uncles and then my own sons seemed to find Jack the Giant Killer the most satisfying story in the collection whereas girls seemed divided between stories like Furball

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or Beauty and the Beast.
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or The Dancing Shoes

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While I had managed to find four copies of this 1928 fairy tale book, I couldn’t find any Adventure covers for sale. However, I did find a website that was collecting cover images from as many pulp magazines as possible. According to this website, these covers were often the way artists made a living during the first half of the twentieth century, and they are now being collected as art. They had a jackpot of Adventure covers.

We spent many winter nights studying the covers on this website before making our selection. Choosing just one that we all remembered, we decided to move on with new Adventure covers just as we have moved on with new Adventures- a little bit of a shout out to what was but mostly an appreciation of what is.

We settled on a group, none of them as scary as the ones we remembered (though perhaps that’s because we weren’t looking at them with flashlights in a dark dark room a long way from civilization). I hung them today. Here’s a view of six to give you the flavor. From here on out, it will be an Adventure! to visit the new bathroom!
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Seed Catalogs

It was seed catalog heaven this weekend as I poured over all my seed catalogs to send for the year’s seeds. Took my mind right off the sawdust and jet engine construction noises in the next room!

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My favorite catalog remains the Seed Savers Exchange- All their seed is saved by their members, and they fight the good fight against GMOs.

I love that they share the stories of how seeds get saved.

One tomato I am getting from Seed Savers this year is a yellow tomato called Emmy. It’s rescue as a seed involved a woman named Emmy. To save her life, she had to flee from Transylvania at the end of WW2. She actually grabbed a tomato from her garden as she ran from her home, hoping to preserve this tomato as well as her own skin. I have to respect this kind of serious gardener. I can’t imagine thinking straight enough to save a tomato from extinction in this kind of situation!

It has surprised me how many dramatic seed saving stories I’ve heard over the years.

During the break-up of the Soviet Union, Soviet citizens escaped the country via the Caucasus mountains in order to save seeds. Others risked serious consequences when they handed US tourists parcels of seed through tour bus windows, entrusting literal strangers to save precious plant varieties. The seed situation became a crisis in the faltering Soviet Union when seed banks were subject to power outages and government seed inventories were no longer kept under proper conditions for preservation. Getting these seeds into the hands of actual gardeners who would grow them was both heroic and visionary.

I can see how important it is for us to have actual gardeners growing the seeds of earth, not just trusting to seed banks to keep seeds safe. May more and more people find themselves preserving the diversity of earth in this way (hopefully without having to run over any mountain ranges to do the job).

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It may shock people that I buy seeds from Parks and Burpees as well as Heirloom organizations, but the resources they can bring to seed hybridization means they sometimes have real treasures. Our beloved Mehera White Marigold seeds took Burpee 56 years work. I will always be grateful to the member of the Burpee family who was as crazy about this Flower as I am!

I watch with delight the rise of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The catalog is passionate and flaky and chock full of heirloom seeds, and somehow the man behind the catalog is keeping it all together even as he buys up failing seed houses, runs a replica Ozark village in Missouri and takes photos of his four year Sasha eating every vegetable under the sun.

If he can buy the Petaluma Savings Bank in Petaluma, CA and transform it into a thriving seed bank- Well props to him! And props to all who are buying and growing and saving heirloom seeds and saving our heritage just like Emmy with her yellow tomato!

As a community of Flowers, Angels, Nature Spirits, Dogs, Cats and even some People, Green Hope Farm can be a funny place……and I love telling you all about it!