Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Christmas Miracle

Hairy-stemmed poison ivy grew all over the garage's northern wall and wasn't visible until the foliage was gone. Ivy overgrowing a structure not only crawls all over it, but pulls with incredible strength. It can pull whole trees down or part the stones in a stone wall. It was gathering under the garage roof in a conspiracy. The ivy had to go. And nobody else was gonna cut it down, so it was on me.

Trouble was, I could barely move or think, being so burnt out from work it was too much effort to raise my arms overhead, much less pick up a cutting tool. Was limping around. Couldn't stay standing for long. Couldn't think of words, either. I had healing to do, but how? Stupid woo-woo advice from the Internet said sleep, meditation, yoga, little or no Internet (the net generates decision fatigue), and replace the Internet with books.

Okay, then: waking shockingly late, exhausted on waking, feeling corny every minute of the yoga DVD and meditation app, working as much as able (about 1/4 the normal), drinking coffee (it didn't help), and the rest of the time reading, starting with McCullough's hefty Harry Truman biography. Sprinkle in a few meetings or meals with friends and four days of cat-sitting. Three weeks and this morning I get out of bed saying, "This is the day I tape down that one carpet" and even before morning coffee it was done, and I still had energy. With temperatures in the high 50s I dressed in long sleeves and long pants and gloves, and bushwhacked behind the garage (all overgrown) to the ivy-covered garage wall and started severing the vines.

Took about an hour. It was a miracle: I still had energy. Severed some honeysuckle vines along the lane. Still had some energy. Shampooed and showered in case any poison ivy touched me. While on the bedroom floor putting on sneakers I saw some spaces all dusty and cobwebby. Dragged out the vacuum and vacuumed them up. Then -- then! -- I still had enough energy to cook a baked potato and an egg in butter. And eat them! And then write this post!

It's a miracle! Merry Christmas, happy holidays, blessed solstice.

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Joys of the Fake Fireplace

Ever see a fake electric fireplace like the one my boyfriend's parents had in their basement "rec room" in the 1970s? The "flames" were a piece of paper like a piano roll with a light bulb behind them.

But now I have one and it brings me incredible joy. First, it's a rather long and large "fire"; second, I can change with the remote control the color of the "logs" and "fire" to suit myself; third, I can make the "flames" larger or have them burn low; fourth, it has built-in bluetooth speakers that really rock. It offers heat, if I want; warm air will blow out of its vent, and there's a temperature control and timer. It works and is very energy-efficient -- the problem is insufficient electrical wattage in the Divine Cabin's system, and when it's overloaded the warmth shuts off automatically. But the fake fireplace also offers fire without heat and I like it.

Look -- a fireplace. No chopping, buying, or carrying wood, no poking at it, no worries that the chimney or the house might catch fire. Everyone with a wood-burning fireplace -- although it is the most romantic of housing features -- must build and tend fires carefully, and get a chimney sweep and safety inspection, and keep the kids away when nothing attracts kids more, and even better, the fake lets no woodsmoke into the atmosphere. Around the holidays here, the usually pure air gets thick with the neighbors' woodsmoke, and very unfortunately I've grown allergic to it. (I can't even stand incense. The irony. I mean, there was a time when INCENSE was my LIFE.) When I first moved here I got an estimate to fix the awesome native stone Divine Fireplace so it would burn propane. $8K.

This will do. A friend liked mine so much she bought herself one -- not so rustic-looking, more vertical and tailored and classic. They have fake fireplaces that fit in corners now. For those who like nostalgia, today's fake "woodstoves" look and act very real.

I taped down an orange runner rug right in front of it to "extend" the fire.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Making the Cut

I used to spend hours and days outside with these tools saving the property from invasive cedars and Japanese honeysuckle vines, and after about seven years the clippers and weed whip, dulled and unusable, sat in the garage until I realized a while ago, "I can now pay to sharpen these," and, to be honest with you, also thought, "When the apocalypse comes, any day now, I will wish I had sharpened these tools" to cut a clearing in the underbrush and clip and trim branches to build my lean-to, and so on.

Nobody else, I was sure, ever let their tools get so dull. Embarrassed to bring them to the sharpener, I prepared a fib -- "I bought these at a garage sale" -- in case the sharpener said, "Whee doggie. I've never in my life seen garden tools in such a deplorable condition." I wasn't sure whether the weed whip, my favorite, with its double-edged and serrated blade, could even be honed. I never knew anyone who cleaned or sharpened garden tools; Demetrius left his crusted with clay and soil. Also needing treatment were two lopping shears and a very old pair of hedge shears with wooden handles. The hedge shears were already here, rusted stiff, blades blackened with time and handles sticky with dust, when I moved in long ago. I wondered whether they could be salvaged. In the garage when I moved here was also a scythe, an actual scythe, but I think it's gone.

The sharpener sharpened and spiffed up all four and covered the freshly honed edges with paper, a courtesy unexpected and appreciated. Here they are back home, and out I go because I like cold weather for doing the heavy work of cutting.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Country Caulking

On a chilly night the new acrylic indoor storm windows leaked cold, so feeling around the single-pane window frame and catching breezes, I looked carefully and saw all three layers of the window frame needed caulking, right now, in the ever-narrower space in Missouri between hot summer and cold winter, neither of those good for caulking.

In September I spent three days caulking a historic single-pane window real nice (with "antique white"), but this one is 1969 in an aluminum frame and it rained yesterday and it'll rain tomorrow so instead of having fun I got the stepladder and drop cloths, plastic bags, nitrile gloves, wet rags and caulking gun and worked quick and dirty. Nearly every inch of this 85-year-old house needs caulking. Aproned and teetering and reaching overhead and messing up, I do it about every 10 years. This time I noticed caulk technology has changed; now soap and water will get it out of your hair and off your gloves and pants.

Inner critic: Your caulking stinks.
Me: Shut up. It's better than yours.
Inner critic: Should have cut the the tube a narrower tip --
Me: I didn't see you lending a hand.
Inner critic: Slow and steady. Don't smooth beads with your finger; use a craft stick! What a mess! Don't you have a sponge? Don't poke at that, it's almost dry! Now it's worse!
Me: The caulk didn't fill it up the first time.
Inner critic: It would have, if you'd been patient --
Me: Cram it.

The photo is AFTER I caulked and while it's curing. Yes, it's hoosier, but it looks a lot like the art downtown at the Pulitzer. In the right light.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Muscling Up

"You start losing muscle mass in your 30s," the senior-yoga-class instructor told our class, "and lose 10 percent more every year." I called out, "That's not fair."

The instructor ignored me and advised us all to work with weights and to up the poundage every time we got good at it. Don't get old, get strong.

She's right, but strength, I secretly think, is secondary. Priority goes to keeping a somewhat youthful shape, and especially knees not draped with crepe-y flesh. So, telling myself it's about knee strength, I started with the "quad" weight machine and related exercises. The "quads" are the long, tough vertical muscles in front of the thighs.

Two weeks, three weeks: The crepe went away! Now that's motivation!

Coincidentally, this is the season the quite common and ordinary Russula mushrooms, such as the one pictured (about 3" in diameter),  muscle their way out of the soil, displacing it if they have to. It takes Russulas about two days to fight their way to standing and you can watch their progress. They lift with their stems and caps more earth than I can with a shovel from this tough, packed, weed-choked soil. They get scarred. They don't quit. What inspires them? Maybe they wanted to be up in time for the autumn equinox. Happy equinox today!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Elegy for a Shagbark Hickory

Missouri's eastern forests are oak-hickory forests and the trees on occasion die and fall, or get struck by lightning (you'll know that from the charred pieces left). The Divine Yard's mature oaks and hickories are slowly losing their juice and often, during storms, with earth-shaking thumps throwing whole limbs to earth or clubbing my roof. Stripped of all that was graceful about it, once in a while a very dead tree will lose its grip and plunge face first onto the lane -- wham! -- blocking entry and exit until we get it sawn apart.

But ye know not the day and hour a tree will fall. I have learned that trees groan and whine before falling -- the way metal whines when it's fatigued and set to give way. If in the woods if I hear that, I make myself scarce because to be killed in the woods by a falling tree is just too ironic, although Demetrius liked to stand there hoping to see the spectacle.

The shagbark hickory pictured, as long as I've known it, gradually offered up all its limbs to storms and winds. Its indwelling tree nymph moved out, and now the tree is really, really dead. Plenty of dead trees are standing on the property waiting to keel over, but only this shagbark hickory, should it fall, threatens the dwelling. Having its carcass cut down will cost less than being forced to move should the tree -- northwest of the house, where the winter storms come from -- tip over and crush the roof. Arrangements have been made. I took its photo and informed the tree nymph, who has since found a new place.

I hope and believe that the earthly body of this tree will one day sprout delicious mushrooms. Amen.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

August Night, September Morning

About three days ago a stony chill manifested in the atmosphere, day and night, regardless of temperature. It introduces the change of seasons, and normally it arrives around September 20, when summer is truly technically over. That should be the significant date in the "living out here" calendar, but it's August 31, turning at midnight with the flip of a page into September, that erects a whole new defensive rather than celebratory mindset. What kind of winter is coming? How to prepare? What didn't I do this summer that needs doing? (Say "Rabbits, rabbits, rabbits" at midnight for luck.)

This is Late Summer. It won't be autumn until September 21. Yet I've begun having soup at every meal, stockpiling what I "feel" is enough coffee and examined the fleece bathrobe to see if one more year might be wangled out of it. Trees in the understory are faintly yellowing. I don't want to be this way. (And in December, in winter's grip, I always light the firebowl and think, "This isn't so bad after all!") Several work projects require other people to make the next move and I'm waiting. I've waited for a couple of years on some of them. Wish progress were as constant as the changing phases of the moon. Here's the August 2019 full moon. May it be so: September 2019 will be greatest month of our lives.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Warmth. Light. Clarity.

Deciding "how I wanted the rest of my life to go," seeing the chances of remarriage receding and deciding to remain here, certain things had to change, like how I burned last winter three 400-gallon tanks of propane by defiantly keeping the cabin's temp at 70 degrees, like normal people. All year I dreaded winter and winterized the single-pane windows with inch-thick foam insulation cut to fit -- a tradeoff between warmth and light, lasting six months: half the year. Neither pleasant nor healthy, and I didn't want company to see my lightless house either.

With old furniture and a ton of books, scrapbooks, yearbooks, etc. hauled or thrown away and by moving a few pieces, I enjoyed the airiness of a non-furnished living room, but it should have, like, seating. What type? Where to put it? I was getting ahead of myself. I listed on my whiteboard my priorities: Warmth. Light. Clarity. Secondarily: Fun (twice over!), welcome/hospitality, wanting to stay here all year, and consciousness -- meaning setting the room up for gladness and ease.

Choosing according to priorities and not budget, style, or whim, I began to change. I sit erect now (forced to, by a new office chair), wear my hair off my face, have pencils and pens nearby.  Bureau-drawer dividers -- $2! -- and a box for gym clothes saved time. Why had such items never crossed my mind? The gorgeous Divine Fireplace has never worked and never will, a daily disappointment. So why in all these years hadn't I sought an alternative? New windows the landlord wouldn't pay for, and I couldn't pay for, but indoor storm windows could offer light and insulation in winter. Did that meet my priorities? Yes. Should I invest in them, given that the house isn't mine? They're custom-made, so not returnable. But how do I want the rest of my life to go? The Divine Cabin needs five. I bought two, and we shall see.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

What I Did on Summer Vacation

Things are different up north.
So my sister and brother-in-law unexpectedly agreed to come with me "up north" -- that's all we've ever called it -- this summer and visit a few childhood sites I wanted to see after 51 years. I said, "To see them one last time," but truly wanted to confirm whether I live exactly here because I was imprinted for life by the landscape and farm in Ashland County, WI, where Mom was born and our family had visited with hers maybe five times, certainly in 1958 and 1959 and a few other times, ending in 1968. Neither had my sister, three years younger than I, seen those places since.
Ashland County, WI

I remembered the place was at a crossroads and we drove 15 miles up the main highway but did not find it. The motel keeper gave directions and we drove four miles out of town on a nearly exact copy of a road not a mile from the Divine Cabin, one I nicknamed "Memory Lane" because it matches my ancient memory. "I am imprinted! I am!" I breathed. My grandfather's tavern, built of stone around 1930, still operates under the original name, "Maple Grove." Contrast this with a bar called "The Ripsaw" we passed in a godforsaken dust-bunny of a town half an hour to the south -- northern WI was once all sawmills and turpentine. Now it's all fishing lakes and taverns. In our grandfather's tavern at a crossroads I drank a beer in the same dark and thickly varnished interior, the stovepipe in the wall gone, though, and two flat TVs tuned to sports.

On this late Sunday afternoon there were three other customers. My very Christian sister and brother-in-law, who never drink, were clearly uncomfortable -- brother-in-law, age 61, ordering Pepsi for them both, confessed he did not know how to sit at a bar or when to pay. So we stayed only the length of my beer -- having driven several hours that day -- and I took a few snaps with my sister. I said to the bartender, a man slightly younger than we who looked as if he'd enjoyed a lot of good rock 'n' roll music, "Our grandfather used to own this place."

"What was his name?"

I told him and said our uncle had later owned and run the tavern, and he said, "I used to work with Dorothy (our aunt, who long survived our uncle) at La Croix," manufacturers of the world's finest fishing rods, its factory and factory store in the next town over. Outside of La Croix a machine vends bait. I said I would take its picture for my blog. My sister, who left the workforce in the 1990s to stay home and be a mother, asked "What's a blog?"

In the pouring rain I did not try to photograph the tavern's unique exterior, but we briefly slowed to look up a gravel drive at the farmhouse where we'd slept a couple of times -- I remember waking to see frost on the window's inside -- and the house, barn, and silo sat as we'd left them a half-century before. Brother-in-law was willing to drive up to the house (because it didn't serve alcohol?) but I told him strangers shouldn't do that. I didn't feel I could ask my sister and brother-in-law to return the next morning, after the rainclouds cleared, to take exterior snaps of the bar, because now I wanted the favor of seeing the local lake I'd never seen, where my mother said she had taken visitors out in a boat to fish. (She'd told my sister that, but I never heard it.) We went. There I took a picture and said to the pretty lake, "Hi, Mom. Thanks. We have not forgotten you."

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Please Don't Rob, Jail or Shoot Us, Because We're. . .

"The Lord is My Shepherd," "I Can Do All Things Through Christ," "Grateful Thankful Blessed," "I'm Not Lucky, I'm Blessed," "Saved by Grace and Faith," "Worry Ends Where Faith Begins," "Corinthians 13.7," "Trust in the Lord," etc. etc. in an establishment owned by folks with Hispanic surnames who appear to be Hispanic too. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

When I was in Branson, MO for an overnight I saw similar sayings papered all over, worked into the shows, Jesus this and that, at a size and volume new to me, and I've been alive and a Missourian for quite some time and I'm an Aquarius so I analyze everything.

When you love God or Jesus and are truly sustained by faith or keep wise sayings and verses and gratitude close to your heart, you don't need to blare that all over, do you, unless 1) You want everyone to know, which is the opposite of how Jesus said to handle it; and 2) You want everyone convinced that you believe these things; 3) you want make it plain you belong to the same Jesus Club most other people around here belong to and know enough not to offend the club's ruling class by displaying graven images; and 4) you think these decorations have power beyond their decorativeness, or you think others believe that and want to keep them comfortable and pacified; 5) you wish to make the point that you speak and read English and not any of those offensive "other" languages except for the bit of Spanish everybody speaks, consisting of "Mi casa, su casa"; 6) you are somewhat concerned that other Jesus Club members will bust your door down and deport you whether you're a citizen or not, or rob you or spray your place with an AR-15 because they are bothered by your surname or skin color, and you are doing your best to establish yourself as entirely non-threatening supporters of the home team who only hope to make a living selling really good food.

Emphasis on #6. In fact you don't even have to be brown for that to happen to you.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Meet and Eat?

Where the grass is mown, I saw a lone mushroom the size of my palm, perfectly developed with a cap so artistic I left it untouched and came back later. It grew low to the ground and the underside and stem were not visible. Overturning the mushroom showed a smooth white stem and a white lace of pores instead of mushroom gills. This identified it as a bolete. Most are edible -- the prized Italian porcini mushroom (doesn't grow in Missouri) is a bolete. The pores are tubes. Now and then a bolete has six-sided pores. Not this one.
In situ
Bruised from handling
Spore print
Picking it, I removed the cap to make a spore print. This bolete cap bruised at a touch. To make a spore print, set white paper and black paper side by side and set the mushroom cap down the middle. This will then capture a spore print whether the spores are dark or light. The spore print can confirm an identification. This bolete's spores (after three hours) were a doughnut-brown.

What type of bolete? My guess is boletus chrysenteron, but I didn't cook and eat it because I'm not sure. Anyway, that summer day I was into it as an art object, and into the art it created by itself. They say that spore prints can be so lovely that people frame them. I put the cap back where I got it and hoped it had spores to spare, to replicate itself. It made me want not a mushroom but a doughnut.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Amateur and Pro

How humbling it is after 45 years of writing and publishing to still be forced by criticism to do better -- and actually do better.

For half of 2017 and all of 2018, besides doing my job, I worked on writing a long complicated article. I have never worked so hard, frowned so much, stayed up so late. I sent it finally to my target journal. Its editors sent it back saying they'd have rejected it outright except that it was so well written, and they had scads of suggestions for me to rewrite and add a lot, and if I did that, they'd consider publishing it.

This was like doing the awful precision labor of sewing by hand a tailored suit of fabric you wove yourself, with a lining, cuffs, lapels, buttonholes, and zipper, and then ripping it apart because it didn't fit right and doing it over. By hand? Yes. Writing is one of the last hand-crafted things left and well-written is not enough. It has to fit. Fit not me, but a readership!

Not wanting to waste the months of work, I patched in and blended in all the footnotes, bibliography, analyses, quotations, details, references, rewriting, etc. they suggested. They accepted this version, and I hoped never to see or think about it again as long as I lived. Then, months later, I read it. My. It really was insanely good, with two or three brilliant spots. They'd set the bar higher. I'd cleared it. I'm not proud as much as humbled. Somebody had showed me I was capable of more.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

A Shameless Confession

Thirteen brand-new notebooks and 20 pens!
Demetrius (bless his heart) would say I'm queer for office supplies. I enjoy viewing and holding fresh clean notebooks, pens, file cards, legal pads, typing paper, highlighters, folders -- if you can write in it or on it, or keep paper in it, it is for me a fetish object and I can't get enough, and Back to School sales at stores with these things stacked high move me to tears -- so much blank paper, so much potential -- and in 2018 with one-subject college-ruled notebooks being sold for a quarter apiece I spent half an hour winnowing out at Walmart all the college-ruled notebooks with a yellow cover -- ten of them. Shamelessly I bought them on Missouri's No-Tax-on-School-Supplies weekend, ecstatic because I could also write them off as business expenses -- yes, I use these!

So allow me to carol and rapture over this year's dreamlike garage-sale find: a whole bin full of 13 blank notebooks, an unused set of 35 glitter/neon pens, 2 packages of 10 pens each; 4 packages of ring-binder paper totaling 450 pages; 2 magnetic whiteboards; 1 package notecards; 1 pencil case, 1 pencil, 2 plastic document wallets, 2 stretchy book covers, 4 picture frames, 2 upright file holders, plus I asked them to throw in the plastic bin itself, and its lid -- and although each item was individually priced I snagged the whole kit and caboodle for $10! Oh my! Isn't this pen set just the living end?!?

I have been this way since I was very small and adored and coveted Ticonderoga pencils, Pink Pearl erasers, the Crayola 72-crayon set (although I would have settled for 32); our elementary school had a school-supply closet with a Dutch door where once a week we could get stuff for pennies -- it was like crack cocaine -- I loved rulers, protractors, colored pencils, diaries with little locks, pencil sharpeners and the scent of pencil shavings; I stole my mom's stapler -- of all the items in the garage-sale bin, only the larger of the two whiteboards was unsalvageable. Man, this stuff is better than money!

This weekend is Missouri's No-Tax weekend; take advantage!

Friday, August 2, 2019

"July 29, 2019"

The previous entry discusses a painting titled "July 25, 1949" and I couldn't imagine its landscape, with that spit of land all wooded with evergreens, being based in some actuality, but as luck would have it, in Ashland, WI on July 29, on Lake Superior, I saw that landspit, with hills in the background too, which I photographed at once, noticing that if the painter, John Wilde, a notable painter and lifelong Wisconsin resident, had been painting his painting outdoors, from life, he would have been standing in what is now a lakefront park, so it is entirely possible, except now the sandy flats have been filled in and a concrete walk laid down for lakefront strolls, and anything resembling a dilapidated wooden shack with a handbill affixed is long gone.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

"July 25, 1949," by John Wilde

The painting at the college library, which I thought was titled "July 25," stamped my spirit so that for the next 40 years I made July 25 my own secret holiday, an especially fine one after I moved out here. Every July 25, truly the day of the year most saturated with summer, I fixed special breakfasts, went on thoughtful walks, etc. Thought I'd never see it again, but the wondrous Internet brought me to the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University and let me search its collection for the painting, its full title "July 25, 1949."

My memory was of a still-life centered on a calendar saying "July 25" surrounded by summer vegetables and flowers, but this is a shore scene, with the crab claws, the fishing float, smooth stones and marshland in the background. The torn piece of paper is not a calendar page but a handbill -- it says "Admission" at its bottom.

Truly, I thought, it's not a very good painting; the shadows suggest a noontime sun but the sky looks like dawn or dusk; I don't know of any salt marshes with evergreens sticking up from them, etc. Then I looked up the artist, John Wilde (will-dee), and he (1919-2006) was a Wisconsin surrealist, highly thought of. Had then to adjust my thinking: In Wisconsin these would be crayfish claws, which I should have guessed from the proportions of the float and what looks like a sparrow's egg. A surrealist painter's shadows and skies don't have to make sense. In fact, a surrealist wants to mess with your head. Wilde went on to paint much weirder paintings than this. And only in Wisconsin does a person named "Wilde" insist on pronouncing it "will-dee."

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Is My Co-Pilot

I hopped out of the car for a second to get the mail and when I got back in a big emerald-green dragonfly was trapped over the dash at the windshield, panicking and trying its luck against the glass.

I reassured it that it was in no danger and that 90 percent of the time everything turns out okay, then rolled down all the car windows and waited, but the windshield, I guess, looked just as good. So I pointed the car in the direction of town and started driving, and said, "Are you my co-pilot?" The dragonfly grew so quiet I thought it might have died of a little heart attack, but it was only tired because soon it revived a bit. The car windows were down but it wasn't leaving. I figured there might be air pressure from the moving car and figured that after I stopped it might get its bearings. While I was figuring, up and out it went.

Until I saw the photo I didn't see the gorgeous large shadow its wings cast in the slanted sunlight.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Hope Springs

Maybe I told you that two or three years ago a huge tractor ran over and churned to mud a rich and generous chanterelle mushroom temple I had cultivated near a juncture between woods and fields so that it was hardly necessary to step into the woods to harvest pounds of cheddar-yellow ruffly lovelies good to eat and share. Also crushed was the fallen tree that was my oyster mushroom gold mine, and logs that brought forth Bearded Tooth, which tastes like lobster. As I surveyed the ruins, shocked and saddened, only religious language came to mind: God is not mocked.

Last summer I tramped over there and saw two or three small chanterelles trying to make it through the mud and wished them the best. This year they are definitely bouncing back, and after a rain I picked a meal's worth and left the rest to reproduce and once again (I hope) cover the earth.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Hummingbird Banding: All You Need to Know

I witnessed an hour's worth of hummingbird bandings, when hummingbirds fly into a cage they can't figure their way out of, then are grasped and put in a net bag, then measured, placed in a tiny fabric bag, weighed, and are gently given leg bands the width of a pinhead, stamped with a four-digit numeral -- if they haven't one already, because since the 1990s volunteer and federally certified bander Lanny Chambers of Missouri by his own count has banded 6,000 hummingbirds -- and 30 more today.

Lanny and wife Linda travel to state parks in the summer and invite the public to watch and learn. After banding and measuring each bird, giving the figures to Linda who wrote them down, he stepped out into the open and let a spectator hold the hummingbird, urging us to feel its astonishing heartbeat (20 beats per second), until the bird up and flew, btw always leaving a pool of pee in the spectator's hand.

Chambers and his wife answered every question I had, and after 18 summers with Divine Cabin hummingbirds I had plenty.

Q: Why are you banding them?
A: For a federal science database with bird migration information.
Q: What information are you taking?
A: Their gender, age, length and weight, and the number on the band they are assigned. If they have a band already, we take a note of that and add it to the bird's history. Banding is the only way we can learn more about them.
Q: Why do you look at the beak with a magnifier?
A:  To tell their age. Juveniles will have little marks along the beak, sort of like growth rings or stretch marks. Adults don't have those.
Q: What's your background? How did you learn to do this? Is this your life work?
A: I majored in anthropology. I had only one job in that field for one summer. Now that I'm retired, this is my science hobby. It's my way of contributing to science. And some kid might see what I'm doing and get interested in biology. So many kids these days don't know nature.
Q: How were you trained for this?
A: I took an expensive course and then was certified.
Q: Are you paid to do this, or are you a volunteer?
A: I'm not paid for this.
Q: What interests you specifically in hummingbirds?
A: It's not at all because they're little and cute. I'm joking.
Q: What's the best hummingbird feeder formula?
A: Four parts water to one part cane sugar. They'll take beet sugar but prefer cane.
Q: Why are hummingbirds attracted to the color red?
A: They're attracted to any bright color, because those are the colors of flowers, and flowers are food.
Q: Why are hummingbirds so combative with each other?
A: They're defending their food supply.
Q: It's the same birds every year at my feeder?
A: They always come back to where they were born. They remember every single feeder in their territory and on their migration paths, just as you remember the whereabouts of every grocery store around you.
Q: Where do they winter?
A: In Central America.
Q: What do they do there all winter?
A: Exactly what they do here.
Q: Do they fly or travel in packs or families?
A: No, they're loners. They fly across the Gulf of Mexico alone. They can fly for up to 25 hours straight.
Q: How old is the oldest hummingbird in your banding program?
A: It survived for 10 years. Three or four years is the average lifespan.
Q: Do hummingbirds sleep?
A: Yes. They perch on a branch and sleep. They can't do anything in the dark.
Q: I heard that the female hummingbirds do all the parenting.
A: All hummingbird mothers are single mothers. Juveniles of both genders look like females. The female builds the nest with spider webbing and other expandable materials so the nest will expand as the babies grow. Hummingbirds will pick and eat from a spider web all the insects caught in the web, then eat the spider too, then take the webbing for nest building.
Q: What does the mother feed the babies before they can fly?
A: She regurgitates a slurry of insects and nectar. She feeds them insects for protein.
Q: Why is the male's throat red?
A: The feathers there are black except for a micro-coating that makes them look red or orange from certain angles. The male flashes his red when he wants to look threatening.
Q: What is a hummingbird doing when it points its beak straight up in the air and holds it there?
A: It's napping. Some nap that way and some don't. Every bird is different.
Q: Why do they pee so much? They peed on the hand of everybody who held one.
A: Because they ingest so much nectar. Their body burns the calories and they eject the excess water before they take flight. Just getting rid of water weight. Here's some hand sanitizer.

Do you want to experience a hummingbird banding? Here is a link. Lanny and Linda have been doing this work for years at various state parks. I had fun, and yes, I got to hold a hummingbird in my palm, throbbing like a little engine, for a few seconds before it up and flew.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Amanita Crocea

Let's talk about why it's not easy to identify mushrooms, even with a field manual, because the manual will show a photo of a mushroom at its prime, but they aren't all or always at their prime, just as people aren't. Here's a prime example from my mowed area of three different phases of the same species. Seeing the one on the right by itself, we'd say "It has a conical, bright-orange, wet-looking cap with a medium-thick stalk" and seek an I.D. for that; the center one we'd say has a "toadstool" shape and a dark orange-brown "nipple" in the center of its Creamsicle-orange cap. The one on the left, the most mature, we'd call flat-topped with a slender stalk and because most 'shroom guides begin identification with the mushroom's shape, we might I.D. or equally we might misidentify. But they're all the same species in different developmental phases. Only field experience will teach you the phases.

The "peely" or "shaggy" stems indicate the Amanita family, and many amanitas are poisonous and different species look alike so I never eat any; my guess is Amanita crocea, or the "orange grisette." Amanitas often have fleshy "rings" around the stems, but Amanita crocea does not. Another Amanita crocea identifier is the "teeth marks" around the cap's edge when mature. Seeing the underside and taking a cap and making a spore print would help prove whether my guess is right.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Floor

In the spirit of "cleaning for the maid" (so she won't see such a messy house) I cleaned for the asbestos removers the living room and bedroom after all the furniture had been moved out. With vinegar spray, dish soap and a long brush I scrubbed walls and baseboards I hadn't seen since 2001, and also the windowsills, alone for the final time with the carpet that carried the DNA of every visitor since 1986. And in the carpet appeared a favorite earring, tiny-tiny and given up for lost months ago: a 4mm pink coral cabochon in 14k gold, undamaged by dolly wheels and big movers' boots -- in perfect condition! Conscientious crazy-cleanness has its ecstasies.

During carpet removal, asbestos removal and then during the required inspector's visit I stayed in a motel, returning home before the carpet installation to see my rooms as I'll never see them again. Took a picture for the record. An eye-watering smell of glue or glue remover. The hearth from which innumerable snakes were hatched and crawled out in front of me and my guests is now well-sealed. What you see is a clean floor stripped of old asbestos tiling.

Divine Cabin built in 1935.

Friday, June 21, 2019

My Favorite Carpet Stains

It was either 1986 or 1991 when the Divine Cabin's carpet was installed, and Demetrius, bless his heart, and I had it cleaned around 2003, when we'd just moved in and he still helped me move furniture. Since then I have despaired of its dinginess and invited fewer and fewer guests, such is my carpet shame. At first I cleaned any stains. Then the despair was such that I left them. Hot, humid days drew from the carpet the smell of pee from an elegant housecat who died of bladder cancer in 1999.

The stains tell a story. From bottom to top: a coffee stain. I never used to drink coffee. I never used to drink it in the living room until two years ago. Spilled it once and cleaned it but you could hardly tell. Next time I spilled it, left it. Next, another coffee stain, this one sneezed into being while I sat in my rockin' chair. Tried to mop it with a towel. The orange-pinkish stain is cough syrup taken on an empty stomach, so vile that I sold the ranch halfway to the bedroom and lay on the floor for an hour, unwell, as the pink soaked into the fibers. When the stain dried it did not bother me. No one else would ever see it. Cats ralph cold tuna and hairballs all the time and no one cares. The tobacco-colored stain at top left is not a stain but a shadow on a carpet so grimy even shadows are brown.

This year the landlord agreed I need new carpet. The measuring guy found asbestos tiles underneath the current carpet. No need for alarm; asbestos floor tiles were popular in the 1950s through 1970s, before people knew better, and if unbroken are perfectly safe. But he said if the carpet removal cracked or broke any tiles the installers would depart at once with the job unfinished. Hearing this, the landlord engaged an asbestos-removal firm to do the job the day before pad and carpet installation.

Thinking right now about a new-carpet party, but what if someone made a stain? Or is that just the way life goes? Happy Summer Solstice.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Big Sky Country

I drove downstate among thunderstorms and rain generated by enormous thunderhead clouds, storm cells, the most dramatic I've seen, yowza, and realized they were so impressive because I was on a plateau and could see horizon to horizon -- as I don't at my home in the hills. Pelted by rain that covered my car like a tarp I stopped in Phillipsburg, Mo., home of the World's Biggest Gift Shop and waited for someone to bring me my gift. With God all things are possible, right? No, really, next door was a huge candy store where I bought cheddar popcorn and coffee, in line with my standard on-the-road menu of junque. And greedily ate it, and watched the clouds.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Pearls in the Grass

We are fancy enough on the Divine Property to pay to have our grass mowed every two weeks, as it was today, but yesterday in the tall overgrown grass along with feasting bunnies I found amanita mushrooms -- amanitas have these "flake salt" skin tags -- and knew they weren't for eating -- never eat a mushroom with a "flake salt" or "skin tag" look: poisonous as heck, especially a white one, known as a "destroying angel." So I admired it for a time and appreciated its pearlescent skin, a feature unnoticed before. A shaggy or "pilly" stem is another warning sign. Cut down before it opened up, so it did not have a chance to assume its classic toadstool shape.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Talk Monsanto to Me

Seated for lunch next to the wife of a famous breast surgeon, and one seat over is perhaps the richest woman in St. Louis, a very demure lady, and I'm listening as they discuss the cancer-ridden couple who on May 15 won a $2 billion judgement from Monsanto, St. Louis-based manufacturer of the carcinogenic herbicide Roundup, sprayed annually on the Divine property when I first got here, but hasn't been for years.

Surgeon's Wife: Did you hear about the $2 billion judgment against Monsanto?
Richest Woman: Did you say billion?
Surgeon's Wife: With a "b."
Richest Woman: My. That does sound excessive. I used to work for Monsanto in the [don't remember what was said, but her husband worked for Monsanto].
Surgeon's Wife: These lawsuits are out of control.
Richest Woman: I don't know how business will survive if this is the trend.
Surgeon's Wife: Remember all the lawsuits that said breast implants cause cancer? They didn't cause cancer. Breast implants never caused cancer. But patients sued and got millions. Millions. That hurt a lot of people. A lot of people.

It dawns on me that her "lot of people" means the surgeons and doctors, such as her husband, who had to make injurious payouts. This, to me -- one of 3.5 million American breast cancer survivors -- was a unique and enlightening perspective. I said nothing. As of tomorrow I am a 10-year survivor.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Bee That As It May

The sage bush blooms generously and with so much spirit that multiple bees bounce like pinballs through its jungle of flowers, feasting -- and when creatures sip nectar, the flowers they sip from actually re-fill their nectar so the bees, butterflies and sipping birds return for seconds.

In May the sage bush -- still expanding, now chest-high -- when flowering is a center of industry, as they used to say about certain cities in the U.S. with robust manufacturing economies. In winter I trim back its dried-up, surprisingly woody branches. The rest of the year I do nothing but have fresh sage in overabundance. People in the South will fry sage leaves. I don't. I bundle cuttings in twine and hang them upside down to dry; the leaves also dry in one minute in the microwave. Dry leaves are then crumbled for packaging and use. Oh, I admit it: I sage-smudge the Divine Cabin on occasion. To sanctify it. To restore its flawless natural vibe. I also cut sage bunches for my woo-woo witch-and-Tarot signs-and-omens friends -- of whom I have an unusual number. A mystic is just someone who believes there are things we can't see.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hummingbirds Have Dirty Beaks, Etc.

Socializing on my porch are three people watching hummingbirds at the feeders. Two of us discover that one is married to a hummingbird expert, now retired, who volunteers to band hummingbirds for the Department of Natural Resources, and does it at state parks where the public is invited to watch.

"People can band hummingbirds?"
"Trained and licensed people with very steady hands."
"Why are they banded?"
"To track survival and how the same ones come back to the same spot year to year."
"Do the bands have radios in them?"
"No, they are just very small pieces of metal. They can't be more than 4 percent of the bird's body weight."
"How do you catch hummingbirds to band them or check them?"
"With a feeder that has a trapdoor you pull."
"That must [annoy them a lot]."
"You have to know how not to stress the birds."
"I fill the feeders with one part sugar to four parts water, boiled together, then cooled."
"You don't have to boil. Just dissolve the sugar in warm tap water."
"I thought boiling was doing the hummingbirds a favor."
"It's not necessary."
"I thought it helped control that black guck that grows in the feeders during warm weather."
"That guck comes from bacteria on the end of the birds' beaks."
"Isn't it like they're sipping through a straw?"
"No. They have an upper and lower beak. The beak is long because it holds a long tongue. It's their tongue that goes into feeders and flowers."
"How come I never see their mouths open?"
"Because having feeders you see them only when they're feeding."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It's A Beautiful Day

Yesterday: Head spinning, so near exhaustion I dread writing an email, I decide I cannot work this week and tell the boss I'm taking the week off.
Today: Greet HVAC repair guy who arrives at the door two hours early and fixes the issue in 20 minutes.
Dress and equip for mushroom hunt; after fruitless hunting, shower and dress.
Drive townward for a car emissions test.
While waiting, walk a block and get a hamburger. Using their WiFi, I find two pleasing work-related emails and send an email requesting a check, and am assured that it is being sent today.
Buy vivid green blocks of rodent poison, the large bag of them, not the small.
It's May 15, the frost-free day for Zone 6, so I select three baby plants, two basil, one rosemary, and tell them, "You are so lucky. You will be loved."
Buy new windshield wipers, amazed to hear that nowadays they are sold singly, the drivers' side wiper longer and costlier than the passenger side.
Return DVDs Steve Jobs, Fahrenheit 451, and Dallas Buyers Club to the library, four weeks late because it took me that long to watch them all.
Buy a jar of Noxzema and two bags of ground coffee.
Pharmacy pickup.
Drop recyclables into a UPS box.
Obtain cash at ATM.
Pick up dry-cleaned winter coat, costing most of the cash.
Get a drive-through car wash.
Buy a dozen lovely brown fresh local eggs at the feed store where I have been served by the same guy for 20 years.
Buy fruit and vegetables at House Springs. Golden Delicious are the best apples. I did not believe that when I first heard it, because Red Delicious are so cloying. A beautiful drive on a day all wildly blue and green.
At home, inspect the bluebird box in the meadow. All of the chickadees have fledged. Removed their nest and cleaned the box for the next occupants.
Process newly bought fruit and vegetables for the fridge and freezer.
Dinner: Cream of asparagus soup, slice of black-olive bread, fresh corn on the cob.
Assemble all required papers and finish online the two-year car license registration, ordering the special "Don't Tread on Me" snake design I have always liked.
Good Lord, it's 9 p.m.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The History of Shredding

Like you, I have a need to shred. I have a small shredder, was told when moving here that it was necessary when one's trash can sits one day per week out by the highway, but ten bags or about 60 pounds was too many papers to shred, and I'd always jam the teeth with more paper than it could hold so the motor overheated and quit, and the teeth should be sharpened, and stores asked me to pay for shredding per pound, and pay an upcharge should I want to witness it, so I kept the bags in the garage.

This rainy weekend's spring-cleaning highlight (pity me! I didn't leave the house otherwise) was a free "community shredding event" at the community center. Pop your car's trunk and they grab your plastic grocery bags, dump the papers into the mobile shredder (a huge trash truck) and return the bags. I had half-hoped, at 8:30 a.m., for doughnuts and coffee, a string quartet and communing. I wondered how shredding came to be and why my parents never went to shredding events.

The paper shredder was patented in 1909 but the patent holder never made one. During World War II a guy put secret papers through his pasta-cutting machine, and so was born the shredder that sits unused in my mudroom. Only the government and military shredded their papers until the 1980s when we all began feeling personally very important and courts ruled that people were allowed to paw through your trash.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Everybody Knows This, Except You

In life I've met with many things everyone else knew but me: how to pronounce "derriere" and "decollete"; that people are born naked (the shock!); that bottled mayonnaise and salad dressing differ while looking the same; how to light matches; that not all plants are perennial; that screws tighten when turned rightward; that salaries are negotiable and the first offer is a lowball; that canned tuna must be drained (we never ate canned tuna; the kids I babysat showed me how); how to tie shoelaces without making two loops and crossing them. From age 6 to 55 I walked around with shoelaces tied "backwards" and ignorance was bliss.

That applies to my first telescope lesson. The eyepieces ordered, of good quality and standard size, were a bit too big to fit in the tube you put your eye to. I tried everything. I even unscrewed one lens from its base and dropped it into the barrel, and oops, down the tube it went, requiring me to strong-arm the 22-pound telescope upside down to get it out.

I would not give up on my free telescope with useless new $20 eyepieces; I just wouldn't! After a long search I learned a fact apparently everyone knows, so basic it's not even listed in specifications: older cheaper telescopes use eyepieces .965 [inches] across, and today's standard measures 1.25."

.965s are so obsolete that adapters are scarce, but I found and ordered one. From now on, though, I know what to tell anyone who fosters or adopts a homeless telescope.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Homeless Telescope

We'd not seen each other in 10 years, but a Facebook friend, a city resident, knew I liked stars and one day messaged and asked if I wanted a telescope. I have always wanted a telescope. We met and placed the entire assembly in my car's trunk because neither of us knew how to separate the telescope from the tripod -- and if we did we might not know enough to reassemble it.

It's a 114mm Polaris by Meade reflector telescope, and somebody bought it and never used it and gave it to my Facebook friend who kept it in his garage hoping to use it but never did. It looked quite too noble to be homeless.

Before even daring to clean the dust from it I'm trying to learn whether it's salvageable. First, telescopes shouldn't be left outside, especially not in garages that can get very hot. Only my porch or my heart have any room. I figured if it's been garaged for a couple of years staying on the porch awhile wouldn't do much further harm. The buyers' reviews said it's a beginner's telescope but good quality for the price, about $150 new. The knob sticking out on the right is a counterweight.

Looking down into the eyescope I discovered it lacks an eyepiece. New telescopes come with a set of 3 eyepieces, but this model of Polaris had cheap ones I can replace with better-quality eyepieces for about $20. The eyepieces are everything. The telescope's focus is permanently set to "infinity." That I liked. There is at least one scientific-looking ring marked in increments, in white paint, 0-360.

I also learned you can buy new telescopes controllable with your phone. Using an app, enter the desired astral object and the telescope will find it automatically. But one cannot use those 'scopes manually. Without Wi-Fi there'd be no stargazing.

Ahead: more learning, and maybe some joy. If I can restore and master this one, I can master a finer one.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Protographium Marcellus

April's tentative, tender greenery, like screening, given tons of rain, is now vivid and definite May green, so encompassing that while walking some packages over to my neighbor I couldn't think outside of it and couldn't stop smiling -- and then along came an airborne smile. Wowee -- pale blue with black stripes. The year's first Zebra Swallowtail (Protographium marcellus).

They're butterflies of the American Southeast, active all summer, breeding about three times a season, and in Missouri most common in the southeastern quarter of the state.

A nature photographer I once took a class with said, "When a butterfly or insect flutters away, stay where you are because it'll be back." This is true. The first time, this swallowtail flew rings around me and didn't land, so I couldn't get a picture. Then it came back and unfolded itself on the gravel as if it were modeling. Perhaps word has got around the insect community that I take great glamour shots and then put them online, and to them it's like posing for Avedon.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

I Am Not a Mosquito

Wet, warm weather, and for the first time this year hearing airborne buzzing around me I was unable to process it because: I forgot there are mosquitoes! I slapped at the air, so that anyone watching would have thought I was doing the Macarena. Winter was so long, I forgot that country air is not only full of pollen but rife with flying, biting insects.

As I fled I saw this huge mosquito on the side of the house and thought, wow, climate change is causing mutations, because they seem only to get bigger and bigger! And took a photo, and, safe on my screened porch, I thought, I've never seen a mosquito with such pretty wings. And looked it up. It's not a mosquito. It's a crane fly, of the family Tipulidae. It is a sign of spring and bites nobody. It eats nectar, not blood. They live 10 to 15 days.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

God's Creatures

A conservative was here over Easter talking about Jesus Christ when a wolf spider woke from its winter's nap and went hunting in my carpet, and the guy's eyes widened and he asked when I was going to kill it. I said, "Wolf spiders are harmless. No reason to fear. They don't bite. I never kill wolf spiders; they eat cockroaches (occasionally, a roach comes up the drainpipe here) and other bugs. They're not interested in you." He kept an obsessive eye on it. I tried to put him at ease saying, "You haven't got anything it wants." He urged me to kill it. I said, "It's one of God's creatures," and that shut him up.

The month of May means other "Thingz" are coming alive in multiples as millipedes wiggle-waggle across the linoleum like they own the place. I deposit them outside, with mixed feelings, because they belong out there but might also become some songbird's meal. That's the chance you take. Outdoors, after yesterday's heavy rains, beneath the garage door and a packing of wet leaves were lots and lots of worms, a sort of urban worm center, all wiggling and alive. Worms are our friends, and alive is beautiful! To me they looked like art.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Cliff Edge

Lilacs grow richly on the cliff edge -- and only on the cliff edge! -- and make quite a display for passersby on the highway below. During their brief springtime bloom, I get an armful or so for the house and porch and giveaways to the benighted who do not have lilacs. (How they got up here in a sand glade I don't know.) They rank with bluebirds and crocuses as one of my favorite things and one I will crawl onto a cliff edge for. Who wouldn't? As long as I can, I will, and I would grieve if I didn't.

This time the usual approach to the cliff edge was overgrown, already, with leafy understory junk shrubs and vines. Up a slope of tall grass with bits of sandstone gravel imploding under my treads, shouldering past an electrical pole, stepping over fallen logs and a patch of prickly pear cactus growing in a sandy microclimate one foot square -- never know what you'll find around here! -- keeping my balance, some lilacs were within my reach. The greater part of the display just swayed in the wind and laughed.

Lilacs are not Missouri native plants or even North American. They're from Eastern Europe and Asia. To whoever sneaked them over here, thank you, and I understand you completely.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Dogwood is Dagwood

Dogwood, seen here near the wilderness end of our lane, has no connection with dogs. Its original name is "Dagwood" and you won't believe why: The wood is tough -- legend says Jesus was crucified on a dogwood cross -- and the wood was used to make dagger handles and such, and so it was called "dagwood," and now we know where both the names "Dogwood" and "Dagwood" come from. Proves that life teaches you something new every day.

And those aren't white "petals," either. They are leaves called "bracts," and the corn-colored puff in the center of the bract is the actual flower, and don't that beat all. Photo taken about 7:00 p.m. on my new favorite day of the year: April 27.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Why Are Deer So Elusive?

Pulling the car into the garage in early evening I saw in its rearview mirror a doe in the meadow. I did not say "Hello," even from inside the car, because they are so sensitive. Imagine living with the knowledge that your flesh is so tasty all sorts of creatures want to kill you to eat it. That's why they're sensitive. But this doe kept standing there as I watched, leaving me plenty of time to fire up the phone and ready its camera. The doe stood firm even as I exited the car. I thought for sure she'd bolt at the sound of the car door slamming shut, but she didn't move a muscle.

I've seen similar behavior in female animals guarding their babies. One rabbit would not budge although a gas-powered lawnmower passed her within inches. At this time of year, fawns would be brand-new. The doe was standing exactly where a circle has been cut out of the tall grass so I can pitch my tent there. It's a choice spot. She might have been waiting to catch a scent. Or she hoped freezing in place made her invisible. Even when I lifted the camera and fiddled with the zoom function (actual distance was about 25 feet) she didn't move. I turned and pulled down the garage door. It whined loudly and rattled, and that did it. She leaped away, but not far. I then returned to minding my own business and let her go about hers.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Rainbow Chaser

Thursday afternoon's high winds became a brief thunderstorm about 7 p.m., and as I drove the last lap home across floodplain, a tall, vivid rainbow appeared, visible end to end. Excited, I found and wildly drove up the wrong side of a back road leading to a vista on a hilltop, scrambled out of the car and photographed the rainbow, by then fading. The chase itself was the day's highlight.

There followed a purple and lemon sunset so awesome I thanked God I was alive and outdoors to see it. During some sunsets, I'm indoors, working. It's a crime and I know it. On my one visit to the Grand Canyon I joined the people anticipating and gathering to watch the sunset as an event, as a one-time-only performance, and thought then, "This is the right way to honor a day of our one and only life." Having finished the drive home, I saw the sunset had changed its key, creating a Thomas Kincaid painting of my own dwelling. Sometimes I look at it thinking, "I live here? People can live in only one place. This is my home? The home I've chosen for my one and only life? How -- how awesome!"

When I moved here I was reverent about sunrise and sunset, grasses and moonlight, things that in the city are in artificially short supply. Thursday's rainbow invited me (and everyone) to renew that reverence, and the sunset sent me this letter, written with light.

Monday, April 8, 2019


 Without screens for 19 days the Divine Cabin looked like a skull, or a jaw without teeth, or eyeless, or simply shabby, conked-out, or abandoned until today I retrieved my new screens from the hardware store (again 3 round trips to bring all 7 panels home; for delivery one must buy $300 of stuff and my total was $284). I've had flu for the last eight days and now bothered only by malaise and cough, decided to shower, dress, go get 'em and see if I felt better.
One last time out on the screen-free porch I had to scrape from beneath a rafter a nest built by a persistent house wren (see photo), a nest loosely woven from moss and dry leaves and grass. Could you build a nest using only your bill and natural materials? I couldn't.

Pulled from the closet some army-green jeans at least 15 years old -- I haven't bought jeans since, they don't flatter me -- and darn, they fit; that was a good omen. When my wooden screens rolled out on a cart they looked lovely and although the frames are 80 years old nothing had been broken. All was just as I had handed it over, except for the new pristine and skillful aluminum screening.

Proceeded to cook and eat the most normal lunch I've had in a week, sit, rest, then attempt to install the screens -- a second huge effort that day, didn't know if it was smart. I did it. Here's a photo taken as the sun slanted across, about 6 p.m. I'll find out tomorrow if I've overstepped my recovery. But now I'll be able to convalesce if I have to on my porch. The divine porch! My nest!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Never Too Early

Not too well today, I did read that "Demons hate fresh air," so hauled my rhinitis-ridden self outside to LaBarque Creek where the bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were as yet a bit shy -- but unfolding themselves anyway. Usually healthy as a horse, by now, as early as possible every spring, I would have spent an afternoon on one of the LaBarque's mobile white-sand "beaches" -- each year altered in size, shape and placement by rainfall, beavers and erosion. We don't expect backup flooding from the Meramec River but I'll stay alert. Bluebells love creek and river banks and floodplains so either way, we win.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Old-Timey Screens

The screened porch is 50 percent of the reason I live here, and I'd patched its holes for years but last summer so many that fresh screening is this season's home improvement priority. But I had no idea how. "Old-timey hardware stores will do it," I heard. "Bring 'em in by Thursday," they said at Cotton's Ace, where I learned why my patches never held well, and why critter claws so easily pierced the screens -- they are fiberglass. That means too the screening is not 80 years old although their frames are. I ordered aluminum replacement screening.

In the Tuesday night cold by the light of the lone yellow porch bulb I unhooked seven of the eight screens (the photo shows five) and for the first time pulled them down. Painted, repainted, nailed on, chewed, their varying sizes did not fit into the car so Wednesday I drove three round trips to the store, but it was the first day of spring and I was jubilant and look forward to driving three round trips back.

I'd previously asked the price and thought they'd said .35 per square inch of screen. With 10,007 square inches of screen the total was $3,527 or thereabouts -- shocked, I wondered if perhaps I was mistaken, as I am far more often than I think-- and in fact it's more like .035 per square inch.

The man who did the paperwork (lots) said that the trim holding the screening onto the frame was fragile and might have to be broken to remove the old screens and staples and I said fine, I'd pay as long as the trim was replaced. Oh, did I mention I'm paying? This is my project -- not a necessity but a "lifestyle" choice -- while the landlord contemplates installing new carpeting in the Divine living room and bedroom. It's a more than fair exchange, in my view.  (While they install the carpet I can live on the porch.) You might pout and say "You ought to make them pay at least some," but I appreciate beyond words having a job and being able to restore something so enchanting as the porch, my box seat on nature and the seasons.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Please Re-Lease Me

October 1 came and went and no new lease arrived in the mail, and the landlord's office said somebody else had to decide, and meanwhile I feared that the delay meant eviction.

Months went by. I kept paying rent thinking, where would I go?  I guess I could be happy anywhere, I said, knowing that each day I woke up in a tiny (affordable) apartment or trailer or shack, even with better carpeting than now, I'd be heartbroken: 100 acres, gone! Porch, lizards, woodpeckers and hummingbirds, crocuses and mushrooms, firebowl and two-car garage -- gone! I couldn't live -- I couldn't make it! (Oh, come on, I thought. This is not Syria. You could rent a two-bedroom in the part of the city that only looks like Syria.)
Crocuses appeared March 12 this year.

After five months I learned that the people who'd routinely mailed the lease had retired and the new employees were months behind on their work, and the lease was now ready to sign, all backdated to October.

But modified, so that every year the lease will renew automatically.

So relieved I nearly fainted. I will probably stay here the rest of my life, I thought, and began making plans.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring Sunrise 2019

Waiting, waiting. . . purple clouds in the east, the great Source color-mixing on its palette in real time, then adding some light, knowing we are watching. Light is a specialty. The work must be totally unprecedented. There can be no error, cannot leave a blank space or discard and start over, must differ from all before it, because this day is a gift specifically for the majestic Earth, and the sunrise its wrapping! And it has to be unsigned so everybody and everything has to guess who gave it. Everyone's answer is different. Everyone is at a different place to receive it. Perfect! I'm smiling. The artist hopes only that the gift will make us smile.

I have enjoyed the long, elaborate, poetic springtimes typical of mid-Missouri, with upsetting lilacs and startling bunnies and winds that invent their own kites, and hope this spring is another. Not only that, I love sharing the greenery and music of the birds and frogs with visitors from the north who travel in a day from their winter to our spring, and marvel.