Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Strangest Summer

This is the strangest summer I’ve lived through, and it can’t all be blamed on El Nino.

To begin with, although we haven’t seen a rabbit for years, there’s a rabbit population explosion, not only at our place in the country, but also in towns and cities in this region. Even though Dennis dispatched three who were eating our escarole, they are everywhere, even living in a flowerbed and in a drainpipe. We’ve given up trying to keep them out of the garden, but they’d better watch out because Dennis plans to go hunting next winter and hopes to put some in the freezer to eat.

Another anomaly is in the garden. The tomatoes spoil before they ripen and some critter has eaten big holes in several of them. Yuck! 

Peppers aren’t doing well either. Here’s the first pepper. It’s a sorry excuse for a bell pepper.

It isn't just our garden. No one around here is getting good tomatoes. Holmes says the rabbits ate all of his peas and arugula. We are getting green beans, for which we’re thankful, but generally the garden is a big disappointment.

My herb garden on the deck also has a strange thing going on. A young squirrel of the vegetarian persuasion has almost polished off the parsley. Luckily it doesn't care for rosemary, thyme, oregano, or curry plant.

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say, and ours is a wild flower garden. The coneflowers have never been more prolific and the phlox and tiger lilies are as tall as I am.

The symmetry of a coneflower's center fascinates me.

The pasture, too, is having a spectacular year. More than 100 Kansas gayfeathers are coming into bloom.

The big bluestem grass is exceptionally tall and getting taller.

It reminds me of pioneer tales of riding through bluestem taller than their horses.

These plants are a feast for the eyes, but I can’t help wishing for some unblemished juicy red tomatoes.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Monday, July 20, 2015

Thanks a Lot, El Nino

Thanks to El Nino, we are experiencing an unusually wet summer. Its effects are strange. The garden, normally bursting with produce, has so far produced very little. Notable by their absence are juicy tomatoes. We still haven’t enjoyed a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, which is a disappointing deprivation.

On the other hand, our flower garden has never been more lush. The coneflowers bloomed prolifically and attracted many butterflies, mostly great spangled fritillaries and tiger swallowtails. Now the coneflowers are past their prime. Many gardeners would cut off the withered flowers, but I won’t because flocks of yellow finches come to eat the coneflower seeds. (Sorry I can’t post a photo of the finches – they fly away as soon as I open the front door.)

Just as the coneflowers faded, phlox has burst into bloom. The swallowtails and fritillaries love the phlox nectar, too. Three swallowtails posed for this photo.

All of the blooming plants produce so much pollen that I seldom leave the house, but enjoy the beauty through windows. Even so, my allergies are raging and making life miserable.

That didn’t stop me from making gooseberry jam yesterday. This is the first time I’ve made it, and I wonder why. Made with a combination of green and purple ripe berries, it is both delicious and beautiful.

I would not be sorry to see El Nino come to an end, but all predictions point to its intensifying. Sneeze! Cough!

Copyright 2015 Shirley Domer

Monday, July 13, 2015

Get To Know Yourself

Here’s an exercise I hope my readers will try: make a list of your favorite books and their authors. You may be surprised by what happens.

I’ve spent most of this hot Sunday afternoon making such a list. I started by letting my mind wander freely in response to these questions:

Which books remain vivid in memory?
Which have powerfully influenced the course of my values, pursuits, and choices? Which books have opened my eyes to reality?
Which have provided the most valuable information?
What sort of characters do I identify with?
Which characters most inspire me?

Through that process I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I’m drawn to read about the American West and the American South from Biloxi west. I know that I love the stories of women pioneers and their struggle to survive, and in general admire stories of strong women and their life experiences. The natural sciences exert a strong pull on me, particularly botany, biology, anthropology, and geology. I seek skills and information about the material world and how we perceive it. I love a good mystery, perhaps because I know it will end with good triumphing over evil.

Notable by their absence from my list are books written from the male point of view, those set in large cities (except for New Orleans and London), biographies, nonfictional history, and religion.

My book list is still evolving, and my self-understanding along with it. 

Photo of the Day

Self-seeded prairie larkspur appeared in the neglected flower bed below our deck and is spreading in a drift of blue down the hillside toward Chicken Creek.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Monday, July 6, 2015

For the Love of Words

I miss the English dictionary. Not the app dictionaries; I use one several times a day. I mean the big old book in which the words are listed alphabetically in two columns down a page. Many dictionaries have little thumb notches so that a reader can easily find the beginning letter of a word. My old Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, has lost all the labels on the tabs except for “C/D.”

Having arrived at the first page of the beginning letter we begin to scan the words looking for the second letter of the word and the alphabet, then the third, and so on until we arrive at the word we’re looking for.

On the way, if we aren’t in a hurry, we become distracted by an entirely different word whose spelling begins initially like our word. Sometimes we get completely off track, when the word that caught our attention makes us want to know the exact meaning of a word in its definition. Or we become entranced by a word that is followed by a series of words that share the prefix or are offspring of the first word, its derivatives. 

If we use a printed dictionary regularly our vocabulary grows with each word we look up.  If we become word lovers we look forward to a ramble through the dictionary, relishing the flavors of all the other languages English has borrowed from. English has more than one million words, far more than other languages, because it so readily adopts good words.

If I were marooned on a desert island and could have only one book, I’d want it to be an English dictionary. I would have all the words and could, in my imagination, put them together in countless ways for entertainment and enlightenment.

Now my hands are so disabled they can’t lift a printed dictionary without pain. I’m also liable to drop it on the floor. That’s why I rely on the electronic dictionary, but I sure miss my old Webster’s.

Back in the physical world, today’s photo features a few of the ripening gooseberries Dennis picked and stemmed over the weekend. Today we’re going to turn them into jam.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Friday, July 3, 2015

Knocked Out Cold

One of the joys of reading occurs when a sentence or even a phrase triggers a personal memory. One of the books I’m reading now (I always have one nonfiction and one fiction going) is Whistling Past The Graveyard, by Susan Crandall. It’s a story told from the viewpoint of a ten-year-old girl in Mississippi during the racial unrest of the 1960’s.

Last night as I was reading in bed (my favorite time to read) these two sentences took me back to childhood, just as Proust’s first bite of a madeleine cake released a flood of memories:

            “I thought about the swings at my school. Everyone always raced
            out the door to get one at recess.”

Suddenly I was a grade school kid back in Odessa, Missouri, racing across the playground toward the swings. I was ungainly, but long of leg, and I was in the lead of a pack of kids who, at that moment, wanted more than anything to get their butts on swing seats.

My heels were winged, but at the last moment before I grabbed for a swing, Patsy Shaw, who was on my heels, gave me a shove, propelling me directly into one of the steel bars that supported the swings. When my forehead struck the bar I was knocked out cold and landed on my back.

My mother, who taught high school history and geography on the school’s second floor, happened to be adjusting the blind on a window overlooking the playground at the very moment I flopped backward onto the ground.

Wearing her signature three-inch-high-heeled shoes, Mother raced out her classroom door, down the hall, down the stairs, out the door, and across the playground.

Upon returning to consciousness I opened my eyes. The first thing I saw was my mother’s anxious face peering down at me. My forehead sported what Mother called a “goose egg,” and I was whisked home to rest in bed with an ice bag on my forehead.

I don’t recall the recuperation, but I clearly remember the miracle of Mother’s caring presence when I needed her most.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer