Who Wouldn’t Be A Grower?

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With rake and seeds and sower,
And hoe and line and reel,
When the meadows shrill with “peeping”
And the old world wakes from sleeping,
Who wouldn’t be a grower
That has any heart to feel?
~ Frederick Frye Rockwell, “Invitation,” Around the Year in the Garden, 1913

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Our Wisconsin Public Television station sponsors a magnificent Garden Expo every February. It cannot come at a better time for winter-weary earth-tenders whose new garden catalog pages have worn thin, and whose eyes have tired of gazing at the bleak winter landscape. This year’s political chaos made escape into the merry and civilized madness of gardening seem even more welcome than usual.

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Thanks to a friend’s kind invitation to stop in to give our 4-legged brood a lunch break, we were free to take the better part of a day and attend the expo, then enjoy a meal at an Afghan restaurant, wander around the Capital Square, do some shopping, and enjoy a leisurely ride back to Full Moon Cottage. A perfect day.

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The expo was comfortably crowded when we arrived. Over 150 exhibitors lined aisles decorated with their displays and booths, some much more elaborate than others.
There were informational booths on raising chickens, keeping bees, growing prairies, and on hiking state trails. (Gardeners are nature lovers, after all.) Since we live on a state trail and near a state park, I enjoyed both of the booths sharing data and history on these.
There were tools and tractors, seeds and plants, landscape designers and contractors, ready-made sheds, and many artists whose garden-themed work or garden ornaments added wonderful color, whimsy, and beauty to the great hall.

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There were purveyors of honey, mustard, soaps, and other products that incorporated garden harvests. And, of course, there were seminars, demonstrations, and workshops throughout the weekend, to help gardeners explore new methods or interests, and hone their skills at creating their own Edens.

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Early on, there was space and time available to stop and talk with many of the exhibitors, which we both enjoy. For the first three hours or so, the aisles could be navigated easily and the exhibits seen closely, the way I like. I hate that feeling of wandering zombie-like in a slow-moving crowd and having my sight blocked at every turn, which eventually happened. The hall at last became too crowded for this short girl to move freely or see much. My 6’4” beloved scanned and reported what was coming up, so I missed only the last half of the last aisle completely, which I considered a grand job altogether. I’m glad we arrived early.

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I fought the temptation to spend too much money, but did leave with a lot of new brochures and catalogs to dream my way through over the next two months, until we can really get to it in the gardens.

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Phillip isn’t as passionate about gardening as I am; going to the Expo was a Valentine treat to me, although he enjoyed visiting with a lot of exhibitors and welcomed the day’s sweet adventure. I am so grateful for his willingness to be a true companion. At one point, making a turn around an aisle in the middle of the hall, we heard one man say to another, “Yeah (sigh), my wife loves this crap.” He rolled his eyes and commiserated with his listener.

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Phillip and I laughed, but I felt sad for his wife, because this guy couldn’t enter into the spirit of her joy a bit more. Nothing like one’s own true love choosing the role of begrudging grumpus.

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As the day ended and we drove back towards home, I thought about tending our relationships, about the friend who volunteered her time so we could enjoy a fine day together, about Phillip’s loving gift of an adventure that he knew would delight my heart, about the ways I hope I nurture these relationships and others…I watched the men ice-fishing on Rock Lake and wondered if their partners were happy for them to be there, enjoying the peace and camaraderie of their friends, and if the anglers had plans for activities that equally supported their partners’ spirits and joy.

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“Who wouldn’t be a grower/ That has any heart to feel?” asks the inveterate gardening writer Frederick Frye Rockwell. I would add that one can choose to grow her heart and capacity to love as well as her garden, and hearing that man’s comment made me all the more joyful to be partnered with someone whose heart is big enough to value my happiness, and support it so well. Having Phillip beside me is what made the day so special; it’s what makes my life so special.

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May you be as blessed in those companions who share your life.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Rx: Spring’s Impossible Green

DSCF5440A week ago, we were worried that drought would keep our spring brown and our gardens thirsty. Then, we were blessed by wonderful storms that brought thunder, a bit of hail, and spring’s annual magic.

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DSCF5319We watched as, within a few days, the dead browns of winter were replaced by spring’s impossible greens.

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DSCF5336(Well, most of us watched. Murphy hid under bedcovers when thunder rumbled.)

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DSCF5301Crocus blossoms opened and spiders crisscrossed the blooms with delicate strands of filament…sometimes, I think these hold the world together.

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DSCF5530The river rose and even spilled over the banks a bit.

DSCF5340This little fellow splashed happily in the ditch, using a puddle as his private spa.

DSCF5510I was under the weather during the tail end of the week. Try as I might, I didn’t escape the spring flu wiggling its way through my students and then through me. I’d looked forward to meeting a friend and sharing lunch before exploring the Wisconsin Film Festival, and was disappointed I had to cancel that adventure. But I did stumble out yesterday for a family gathering and belated celebration of Phillip’s birthday. The morning began with a brilliant sunrise that flashed around the bedroom, refracting in windows and surprising the heart with joy.

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DSCF5492A tentative walk with the pups assured me I had my sea legs back under me and walked once again among the living. That green! What an amazing medicine, shooting straight through the eyes, the body, and spirit.

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DSCF5343We met our family for lunch, and then visited the nearby home of Phillip’s niece, who raises sheep and chickens.

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Surrounded by people we love, the sweetness and beauty of the new life, and the impossible green, I knew I was on the mend.

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DSCF5610And mending renews hope: If the earth can transform from colorless death to wild green life in just a week, well, maybe there’s hope for humanity. Maybe nothing’s impossible, after all.

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February Celebrations

DSCF3572A typical February day, both in my memories and today’s experience, is gray, muddy, and moist. Puddles and the sound of melting snow dripping on the deck are a constant, as are the imprint of paw prints across the wooden floor, requiring several quick swipes with the mop each day.

DSCF3423 For variety, such days alternate with sudden freezes, like the one forecast for later this week, that turn every walkable outdoor surface to ice, and every necessary navigation to a dance with death, or at least a possible broken limb or two. In November, I look forward to snow and ice for all the magic they bring; by February, the melting of all that snow and ice, and then the freezing of all those puddles, become less and less enjoyable. The garden catalogues have become so pawed through the ink has blurred and “gardener’s impatience” begins to mount: Let me out! I want to plant seeds, and weed weeds, and caress the earth.

Garden End of May Early June 2010 036Of course, imagining spring and summer, I project only future bliss. In my fantasy of the coming months, there is no humidity; no chiggers or Asian beetles terrorize me or my gardens; no drought threatens to choke green lushness, nor will constant rains drown it. It is the promise of perfection that contrasts so sharply with the utter dreariness of February, a month whose name means “purification,” not a great selling point. It’s also been called “mud month” and “cabbage month,” also not terrific slogans were we advertising its virtues.

DSCF3547We northern natives survive this challenging month, knowing it leads to the perfectly-placed season of Lent (Yay! Six weeks of spiritual purgation!), by having winter celebrations, heralding the longer days, making fun and sport where clearly Mother Nature and the Catholic Church intended none to exist.

DSCF3562This week, we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day; the following week, Mardi Gras, and, locally, the Knickerbocker Festival exists solely to celebrate celebrating, I think, although it’s ostensibly dedicated to winter’s unique offerings, of which I am a devoted fan. I love snow and ice, snow-shoeing and hiking, skating, and the way the winter atmosphere and the many crystals it creates refract light like no other season.

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DSCF3542For the local festival this year, some men built a small scale version of Stonehenge, using ice from the lake. Icehenge generated some media attention, and the day I walked down to take a look and some photos, I met people from the Madison and Milwaukee area, who came for the adventure…as I said, it’s a tough month, and any excuse to get out and do something different is welcome.

DSCF3425February celebrations save our sanity just long enough to last till the first mosquito bite.

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Island Vacation

DSCF0470My husband and I wanted a break. Together. After so many years together, there is little we want or need; instead, the best gift we can give each other is shared time, away from the rutted routines we walk each day. New views help to create new outlooks, and the shared imaginings we have for this slow life we’re co-creating can be stimulated and renewed by travel. The weather’s been warm and the fall color is blushing its way down the state, so we decided to take 4 days and head a bit north, to the state’s largest Cranberry Festival.

DSCF0310Wisconsin produces most of our country’s cranberries and festivals are held every autumn to celebrate the harvest. I’d read something about “1200 booths” participating at this festival, and thought this referred to artists and flea-market/antique vendors. I knew there was a cranberry-focused museum and bog tours, so it sounded like a perfect adventure.

 We drove up the night before the festival opened and met other festival-goers when we checked-in to our hotel. “Oh, we come every year; you’ll love it!” they assured us. We woke up early to head from our hotel to the little town, Warrens, where it’s held. This is what we saw:

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DSCF0394A tiny town crammed with thousands of people lugging carts around to booths that lined streets and sidewalks, and narrow, narrow “alleyways,” everywhere. Claustrophobic doesn’t begin to describe it, and the merchandise was largely made-in-China mass-produced schlock. Little art, no antiques. Disappointment…I could feel my anticipation swirling down and drowning in one of the numerous stomach-turning vats of frying fat preparing decidedly non-cranberry food.

It wasn’t a complete or epic fail: We appreciated a brief bus tour of some cranberry bogs and enjoyed the town’s museum, but then exited the noisy, packed town. Quickly.

DSCF032610:00 A.M. and three days left to our Cranberry Festival vacation. Hmmm. Luckily, my travel partner makes me laugh, easily and deeply, and did; all would be well.

Happily, this part of the state is rich in geological and environmental history. The almost 44,000-acre Necedah Wildlife Refuge, just a few miles from the over-crowded shopping spree of the cranberry festival, called to us.

DSCF0399When the “local” glaciers retreated almost 15,000 years ago, they left a vast, low-lying wetland, called the Great Swamp of Central Wisconsin. For centuries, Native Americans lived in this area, which they called “Necedah,” or “Yellow Waters.”

DSCF0420Then Europeans arrived, and their farming, which necessitated draining the marshes, cutting trees, and battling the wildfires which had long nurtured the prairies, eventually destroyed the natural landscape that had endured for thousands of years.

In 1939, President Roosevelt’s administration, through the Civilian Conservation Corps it established, reclaimed burned-out land, restored prairies, oak savannahs, and wetlands, and created the wildlife refuge. Among others, a restored whooping crane population is welcomed to its acreage each year.

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DSCF0437We hiked along raised planked trails in silence, feeling cleansed and at peace. A lovely breeze carried the calls of geese, herons, eagles, frogs, and songbirds through the air. It was hard to believe thousands of people preferred what the “festival” offered to what was available at the refuge, but there you go.

DSCF0401The next few days we explored nearby lakes, rivers, sandblows, and the bluffs, mesas, and buttes that are actually former islands in Glacial Lake Wisconsin. We hiked around state parks and climbed for hours, grateful for glorious weather and views.

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DSCF0486Sunday morning came too quickly, but we were able to ride into the sunrise and stop at Roche-a-Cri State Park to see the petroglyphs and pictographs of Native Americans, and those who came later. (Note the “A.V. Dean. N.Y. 1861” carving.) 300 steps up, and we had an “island view” that took our breaths away.

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DSCF0603For us, vacations are times to “be” together, center our spirits, listen to our feelings and hearts, create new dreams. We like adventures and surprises, and generally don’t over-plan, but the Cranberry Festival that became an island vacation was completely different from what we expected. A perfect gift.

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Earth Day, Every Day

April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 031Our goal is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human creatures and for all living creatures. . .The battle to restore a proper relationship between man and his environment, between man and other living creatures will require a long, sustained, political, moral, ethical, and financial commitment- -far beyond any effort made before.  ~ Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson , founder of Earth Day

Last Friday

Last Friday

Saturday

Saturday

River at the end of July

River at the end of July

River today

River today

April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 085April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 104April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 107If we don’t have certain outer experiences, we don’t have certain inner experiences or at least we don’t have them in such a profound way. We need the sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers and the mountains and the trees, the flowers, the birds, the song of the birds, the fish in the sea. All of this evokes something in our inner world, evokes a world of mystery. It evokes a world of the Sacred and gives us that sense of awe and mystery.   ~ Thomas Berry

April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 118

April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 133

Glacial drumlin

Glacial drumlin

April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 173April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 177The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.  ~ Gaylord Nelson 

Fiona and Riley watching the sunrise this morning

Fiona and Riley watching the sunrise this morning

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Double-Crested Cormorant

April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 170

April 22 2013 snow, sun, early spring gardens, high water 041Practices for Earth Day to feed the spirit.

Happy Earth Day, and for tomorrow: Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday!528886_4912045893034_241491468_n

To Market, To Market

Bob Fenn and I at Milwaukee Public Market; foggy sunrise 043I can tell it’s almost spring, though continuing snowfalls are no indication that this is so. But these days, the birdsong is all about spring, the sandhill cranes and red-tailed hawks are returning, and the inner time-keeper that heralds earth’s green abundance is causing me to shift from soup-making to craving salads and fruits and icy teas.

This is the time of year I countdown the days to the opening of farmers’ markets, in our local communities and in Madison, where the largest outdoor producer-only farmers’ market in the U.S. will open on April 20th. My own garden’s vegetables and fruits, local CSA’s’ offerings, and all these glorious farmers’ markets…such lovely, healthy bounty, and it’s almost here, near enough to smell!

Bob Fenn and I at Milwaukee Public Market; foggy sunrise 042 - CopyThe first 20 years of my adulthood were spent in Milwaukee, which is not a huge city, but at a population of 600,000 or so, the largest in the state. And since it’s the home to several universities and colleges as well as (still) many ethnic communities, shopping for produce, spices, and groceries was always a possible adventure.  In the early 70’s, the first “health food” stores brought the additional availability of whole wheat and other grains still absent from grocery store shelves. We could prepare and eat healthy meals, and fairly cheaply.

Bob Fenn and I at Milwaukee Public Market; foggy sunrise 040 - CopyThen I married Phillip and moved to the “country.” I couldn’t adjust to the scarcity of fresh produce and lack of ethnic foods and spices. I drove 40 minutes to Madison to find healthy ingredients. I remember an older teacher sitting beside me in the staff lunchroom and commenting on the “funny-food” I brought for my lunches (probably something with garlic and spinach). It all brought home to me that a move of 50 miles had brought me back to the wretched dietary habits of the 1950’s and 60’s: better eating through chemicals, processing, excessive sugars and fats, and meat, meat and more meat. It really made the newness of the community and our marriage all the more challenging not to be able to cook, bake, and eat foods that fed our spirits as well as our bodies.

Bob Fenn and I at Milwaukee Public Market; foggy sunrise 044The Farmers’ Market in Madison, and growing and preserving as much food as we could, helped a lot every summer. And, as the years have passed, an increasing awareness of the health benefits derived from fresh, organic foods and ingredients, as well as a shift towards greater variety and sophistication in tastes, has altered the local food landscape for the better. Several community farmers’ markets are close and affordable, and also provide wonderful opportunities to connect with friends and hear updates on everyone’s stories.

And when the cold winds do blow and shut down access to fresh garden produce, local groceries now stock organic choices. A few years ago, a woman opened a wonderful bulk goods store in our area, working with local and Midwest Amish and Mennonite suppliers. A short, beautiful ride in the country and I can stock up on inexpensive organic grains and spices that keep our meals varied and healthy all winter. I’d never tried some of these before (spelt; kamut; rye berries) and have enjoyed experimenting with new recipes.

Bob Fenn and I at Milwaukee Public Market; foggy sunrise 041 - Copy

This week I met with a friend at the indoor Milwaukee Public Market, a place I’ve enjoyed visiting since it opened in 2005. While not the most affordable place to shop, it’s a wonderful resource for specialty “treats,” people-watching, and to pay homage to the history of Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Years ago, when I worked downtown, I’d walk to the Third Ward over lunch break just to watch men unload crates and crates of fresh produce and fruits. It’s always good for my spirit to be back in Milwaukee and to share a meal with a friend, but now it’s also good to come back and cook up a healthy meal from ingredients I can buy here, at home.

My friend Bob, and I, at The Milwaukee Public Market

My friend Bob, and I, at The Milwaukee Public Market

Time to bake some whole-grain organic soda bread for our St. Patrick’s celebrations…Joy to your first day of spring! May it bring a season of fresh and blessed health to your mind, body, and spirit, and may there be enough green in your pocket, on your plate and outside your window to make your life rich and your spirit merry!

 

The Gift of Water

March icicles 001Snow, ice, fog, and rain: within a week’s time, we’ll experience all of these in massive doses: March in Wisconsin. The juxtaposition of winter and spring is marked and remarkable, and painted with water in all her varied media.

Two days ago, we received 8 more inches of snow and today, icicles are melting and birds are again energetically singing their spring songs. Rain is forecast for the weekend, and snow returns on Monday. After a long season of drought last year, we’re very grateful for water in any form, as well as the music, smells, and images each form creates.

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DSCF0234I’ve been contemplating the gift of water these past few weeks. Turn the handle of the faucet and out comes water fit to drink, or bathe, or clean our food, or wash our clothes. The quality and availability of fresh water is a gift to be treasured and conserved.

Our state is bordered by two Great Lakes, including Superior, the largest fresh water body on earth. Just south of Lake Superior is the Penokee Range, which runs southwest from the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan to southeast Bayfield County, Wisconsin.

A 22-mile iron ore vein runs through this range, and was mined with shaft-mines from 1868 until 1965, when they were closed, due to the advent of the cheaper open-pit mines, such as those in Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range and Michigan’s Marquette Iron Range. The competition from inexpensive foreign ores also contributed to the closing of the shaft mines. Wisconsin became, over the next several decades a leader in environmental protection, nationally and at home, creating stringent laws to ensure our precious resources would be safeguarded for generations. Or so we believed.

Titmice, snow, cats, chili, snow 002Running along the surface of the Penokee Range, for example, are lakes, trout streams and the head waters of many rivers. Downstream is the Bad River watershed and the reservation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. The Bad River watershed contains 40% of all the wetlands in the Lake Superior watershed.

This land provides essential habitats for bald eagles, wolves, plants, songbirds, fish, and humans, and is regarded as some of the most environmentally-sensitive land in the state.

Snow-walk with Riley and Clancy 042The current Republican majority in our state government have chosen to prostitute the Penokee Range, however, selling it to Gogebic Taconite (a subsidiary of The Cline Group owned by billionaire Christopher Cline, and headquartered in Florida. His mining operations in Illinois have pillaged and polluted the land and water.)

Our noble politicians rushed a bill through the legislature, holding only one, brief, public hearing, that allows this corporation—one of the nation’s largest mining companies—almost free reign in destroying the land, the habitats, and the groundwater, so it might extract taconite, at great profit to Mr. Cline, called “New King Coal” by Bloomberg.

Long-standing and environmentally-sound mining laws have been re-written by our current legislature so Chris Cline can hurry up and start extracting taconite; he’s paid for these exemptions, after all.

I don’t know how much more abuse our mother earth can take, and it saddens me, deeply, that the state I was once so proud to call home will be complicit in her further destruction. The legislature is calling it a “job-creator,” but I’m not sure people will want to work in a place where the land and water are poisoned.

icecicle drips 056Perhaps it could be the Republican version of a tourist attraction, to replace the one they’ve destroyed. Come one; come all! See the largest open pit mine in the world!

But don’t drink the water.