Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A riot of roses and other portals to peace

On Sunday afternoon I sat on the porch at a friend's house in California and played Scrabble while watching bees and hummingbirds buzz the brilliant orange blossoms on her pomegranate tree, and I thought: this is peace. 

I thought I was going to California to encourage an old friend who was enduring an impossible situation, but it turned out that I needed encouragement too. After six weeks of one unexpected blow after another--my car wreck, my nephew's death, a storm that wiped out our phone lines, another storm that wiped out our driveway--combined with all the chaos and hubbub of the end of the semester, I really needed to spend a few days playing Scrabble, walking around gardens, eating marvelous food, and talking talking talking with someone who has known me longer than almost anyone else in my life.

We focused on absorbing beauty in many forms: poppies and peacocks and sweet peas, riots of roses and camellias, acorn woodpeckers tending a nest in a hole in a tree, and even a plant my daughter insists is euphorbia even though it looks like fabric for a little girl's gingham dress.  

One day we sat in a rose garden talking about our mothers, both formidable women who loved roses, endured difficulties, and exercised patience that sometimes verged on the heroic. Remember that time when we painted the kitchen? We smiled. If strangers came into your kitchen while you were out of town and painted it without your knowledge--and then ate a porterhouse steak you'd been saving for a special occasion--you would call the police to report vandalism. But that didn't happen to us.

Another day we visited a glorified roadside stand called Casa de Fruta, where visitors can ride the Casa de Choo Choo or pan for gold at Casa de Sluice or fill up with gas at Case de Diesel (or Casa de Burrito); we passed the time in the car by writing a jingle for Casa de Fruta that somehow did not include a malamute wearing a Carmen Miranda hat, and we agreed that it would be ridiculous to name an establishment selling band instruments Casa de Glockenspiel, or to start a fan club for a former Partridge Family star and call it Casa de Cassidy, but no other name could so perfectly suit the wonder that is Casa de Fruta.

One evening we ate dinner at a ritzy restaurant where my friend's son is sous chef, where dishes we hadn't ordered kept appearing at our table and making us ooh and aah over their deliciousness. I've never had a more amazing meal, but even more amazing was seeing a  talented young man find his niche and exercise his gifts with such panache. It's good to be reminded that eventually our children do grow up and make us proud, and it was also good to see a son so clearly proud to serve his mother.

Now I'm back on campus and when friends ask what I did in California, I find I don't have much to say: I played Scrabble. I looked at roses. I ate great food. But when I look at the photos I took, all I can see is peace. 

Exactly what I didn't know I needed. 

Invading space aliens?


Looks like peach sherbet.

Acorn woodpecker!

He looks like he dipped his beak too far into a vat of chocolate.


Tree framed by mulberry leaves.

Pomegranate bud (above) and blossoms (below).


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Special delivery: one yawning abyss

I've been trying to figure out the right place to start this story. I'm tempted to go back to yesterday when I was e-mailing with a colleague and wrote something like "I'm looking forward to a boring summer, because I've already had enough excitement for one year." What was I thinking?

Or I could start at the moment this morning when I was walking down our road trying to find the remains of our garden shed and a guy from the county road crew drove by and asked, "Have you ever seen it this bad here?" And I had to admit that we didn't actually see the flood because we slept through it, but we've certainly never seen this level of damage.

Or I could start a little earlier, when my husband and I were getting ready to walk out the door for the day. He was all spiffed up in his teaching clothes and I was dressed casually for a day at the Akron Zoo with the grandkids, so I kissed him and watched him drive away and then sat down to set up my gps to lead me to the Akron Zoo, and I was just getting ready to press "Start" when he came back in the door and said, "No one's going anywhere this morning."

We had a flood. It must have been pretty localized because some other parts of the county barely had rain, but here it fell hard enough to cover our bridge and our driveway and our lower garden--and to wash away the red garden shed and everything in it. Granted, most of the shed's contents weren't particularly valuable: piles of newspapers to use as a weed barriers, some fertilizer and seeds and crushed eggshells (to deter slugs). But we did lose every single gardening implement except one lucky trowel that was left up by the house. Oh, and the big green plastic garden bench is nowhere to be seen.

I found the shed. Apparently it floated off and slammed into our downstream neighbor's bridge, because there's a big piece of it wrapped around the bridge's piers and other mangled shed parts scattered in the neighbor's yard. One mangled piece of the roof ended up half a mile up the road in another neighbor's meadow. We'll retrieve the pieces at some point just to get them out of the neighbors' way, but first we have to fix the driveway.

Ah yes, the driveway: the flood deposited debris on the bridge and thick mud on one approach to the bridge and totally washed out a good five feet of driveway on the other side. This morning I stood at the edge of the bridge and looked down into the yawning chasm and then looked over to our neighbor's hay meadow, where a long finger of gravel and rocks stretches out pointing downstream. "There's our driveway," I said, but it certainly wasn't useful in such a scattered condition. 

Hopeful stood at the edge and looked down at the abyss and then looked back at me pleadingly, as if to say, "I hope you don't expect me to jump across that." Jumping was not an option. Any crossing would involve a precarious climb, so I stayed a while on the bridge and cleared the smaller debris piles, leaving the big limbs for the tractor to haul off.

You will recall that at the time when my husband discovered that he could not drive across the bridge, he was preparing to go sub at a middle school on the other side of the county. It was clear that he wasn't going to be able to go anywhere until we got a load of gravel delivered, but here's the dilemma: how could we notify the school that he was not coming and also call the gravel guy to deliver a couple of truckloads when Frontier still has not restored phone service that was knocked out more than a week ago?

We puzzled over that for a bit and resolved on a two-pronged plan: I would try to use our glitchy and unreliable internet connection to contact the school, and he would somehow climb down into the abyss and walk up the road until he could find a neighbor with a working telephone. Along the way, he flagged down a passing school bus (!) and asked the driver to radio the school office and ask them to call the school where he was supposed to sub--in a completely different school district--and tell them he couldn't get there. And the remarkable thing is: they did it.

And here's another remarkable thing: our son worked late last night and when he tried to get home, he was halted by the yawning abyss where the driveway had been, but he also noticed another unexpected sight: a cardboard box perched precariously on top of our newspaper delivery tube. Remember the suit my husband had left behind in North Carolina three weeks ago? Well, FedEx finally delivered it, leaving it late in the day on top of a wobbly newspaper box in the pouring rain, not long before that newspaper box would be surrounded by floodwaters. But the suit survived the flood--a little wet, but no worse for the experience.

And so are we. By noon we had cleared the debris, conferred with neighbors, received two loads of gravel, and restored the driveway to stable enough condition to carry a car. It's still pretty bumpy and muddy, but I made my way across and drove up the highway, headed toward the grandkids. I missed the zoo visit, but I've probably had enough excitement for one day. (Better not say that out loud.)

Oh, and that county highway crew guy? He was shaking his head at the extent of the  damage to our whole area, and he said,  "I don't know what you people out here did to deserve all this." I considered the daisies blooming all along our driveway, the wood thrush calling in the woods, and the pawpaw trees putting out plenty of blossoms that will produce luscious fruit this fall, and I think, No, I don't know what we did to deserve all this either, but we'll take it.

What's missing? The garden shed.

Hopeful says, "Come on! It's just a little mud!"

a little mud.

Debris on the bridge.

Hint: if the dog won't jump the gap in the driveway, don't try to drive a car across it.

Hopeful wasn't too helpful removing debris.

Our neighbor's hay meadow, studded with rocks and gravel from our driveway.

Nope, not driving on that.

Debris under the bridge. (It will have to wait.)

Got a disaster? Call this guy. He'll get right to work.

Pieces of our shed, hundreds of yards downstream.

Hopeful supervises gravel delivery.

Happy little daisies, because we can all use some good news.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My telecommunications Destiny!

Here I sit in my office chatting online with Destiny, who assures me that she will need "just one more moment" to resolve my problem. I suppose one more moment won't hurt since I've been chatting online for nearly 40 minutes already, first with Ricardo and then with Lynn and then with Destiny. None of them can tell me why we still lack functioning telephone service at home. The storm knocked out our service last Tuesday, a week ago tomorrow. While I appreciate the absence of robocalls in my life, it's a bit disconcerting to lack home phone service, especially since there's no cell-phone access at my house.

A 40-minute (and counting!) online chat sounds pretty intense, but very little of that time has been spent actually chatting. I've been subjected to "let me connect you with the repair department" twice and then sent into the limbo of the eternally spinning circle and a message telling me I was number 30 in the queue, then number 29, and then right on down to number 1, where I got kicked back to the beginning again and had to be reconnected.

But I'm not just sitting idly in my office watching the spinning circle of doom. I've been getting stuff done: paying bills, contacting the hotel we stayed at in North Carolina last month to ask why they haven't sent my husband's suit back even though I paid them for postage ("it's in the mail"), downloading my itinerary for my flight to San Francisco later in the week, sorting books, reading e-mails, checking on the spinning circle of doom again....I tell you, my life this morning is a thrill a minute. 

Now Destiny has come back with an answer: a repair person will be at my house today, and someone will need to be there to let them in, but she can't tell me when they will be there, and of course I couldn't have this little chat with Destiny at home because of the absence of connection, so it will take me at least 25 minutes to get there if I just abandon all the other errands I need to do in town today. And if I'm not there when the repair person arrives? "Then you will need to reschedule," says Destiny.

At what point do I just give up on having telephone service at home? (If Destiny knows the answer to that question, she's not telling.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Look what the storm blew in

It was the kind of storm that makes you stand by the picture window and gape at the swaying trees and then back away from the window and wonder whether it's time to take shelter in the basement. I know that many places east of us suffered severe damage so I'm not complaining; here, the storm merely blew down a few tree limbs down by the creek, stripped every blossom off our dogwood tree, made the creek rise from zero to flood stage in about 30 minutes, disassembled a hummingbird feeder, plastered the roof with stray leaves and sticks, and made all our phones first ring incessantly and then fall silent. (Still no phone service at home. They'll be fixed "soon," whatever that means.)

But the day after the storm something unusual happened: a juvenile indigo bunting started hanging around our birdfeeders. We frequently see indigo buntings in our upper meadow and in trees on the edge of the woods, but in 14 years I've never seen an indigo bunting visiting our feeders. And this one kept coming back all day long and well into the evening--and there it is again even as I write this. (At least I assume it's the same one. It certainly looks the same.) Did the storm somehow disrupt this young bird's feeding patterns? 

It's a wary bird: the bunting flies away every time I step outside with the camera, so I finally took a shot right through the picture window just to prove to myself that I wasn't hallucinating.

This morning on my walk I saw further evidence of the storm's disruptions: tree limbs down, debris left behind by the creek, utility trucks scrambling to make repairs. We're fortunate to have suffered so little damage--and if the storm is responsible for our unexpected visitor at the feeder, then I owe it a debt of gratitude. (I'd call up the storm to say thanks if only my phones were working.) 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Master of Spam Studies

Hello, my name is Bill Ruud.I am a student of Marrieta College.My uncle is moving to the school area and  needs someone who can take care of his English Bull dog  4 days a week for any 2 hours a day between 9am-11pm.Pay is $300 weekly.Kindly email him for more info [address redacted].

A tempting offer! But I suspect it's spam. Here's why:

1. Thirty copies of the same message in my inbox--and in the inboxes of all my colleagues. Either someone is really desperate to find a dog-walker or someone is phishing for really desperate people.

2. Maybe someone somewhere is willing to pay $37.50 per hour for dog-walking, but not in Appalachia. 

3. What kind of dog needs to be walked for two hours? Maybe it's constipated.

4. Spacing and syntax are a little odd. A native English speaker would be unlikely to say "I am a student of Marrieta College." You may be a student of psychology or a student of dog-walking or a student of Spam Studies, but you're a student at a college.

5. Might be a good idea to spell the college's name correctly. You are not a student of Marrieta College but at Marietta College.

6. I know Bill Ruud! We all know Bill Ruud! He is frequently seen on campus walking a small terrier. He's never mentioned having an uncle who plans to move his English bulldog "to the school area."

7. Bill Ruud is not "a student of Marrieta College." He is the President of Marietta College. (And he knows how to spell it.) 

So all things considered, I think I'll give this thrilling career opportunity a pass. If the President's uncle's English bulldog needs a dog-walker for $37.50 an hour, he'll have to look in someone else's inbox. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Let sleeping volcanoes lie

"Grampa has to comb my hair because he's the gentlest," insisted my granddaughter, and so she sat quietly in his lap while he worked a wide-toothed comb through her unruly curls. It was a wonderful moment of peace and togetherness--the last quiet moment we'd experience all day.

Soon small people started arriving for my granddaughter's birthday party--five years old already! I'm not sure how many small people were present because they never stayed still long enough to be counted, but they appeared to outnumber the Mongol hordes. Here, though, is the key to maintaining sanity at a five-year-old's birthday party: keep the adult-to-child ratio on the high side. When the ravening hordes are surrounded by a surfeit of moms, dads, grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles, the party is less likely to result in any 911 calls.

Which is not to say that the party was not explosive. It was, after all, a volcano-themed party, so explosions were on the menu--literally: my daughter made a volcano-shaped cake (filled with strawberry jam magma) and topped it with sparklers. And then, of course, there was the other volcano, the home-made volcano she'd crafted from foam pads and paper mache with a vase embedded in the middle to control the eruption. Before the eruption, though, my son-in-law the engineer explained to the awestruck children the chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda (which he had helpfully written out on a whiteboard), and their ability to correctly respond "carbon dioxide!" on cue attests to his teaching skills.

More volcanoes appeared among the gifts, from volcano books to volcano-constructing kits, and children erupted into unstructured play with bubbles and sidewalk chalk. While their attempts to "dig a volcano" in the rock pile under the deck suggest a basic misunderstanding about how volcanoes work, the effort kept them happy.

So we all had a lot of fun and eventually the little people all left, except for the three who live in the house. The presence of new toys inspired a few more eruptions as the day wore on, but, thankfully, bedtime comes for everyone, even birthday girls with unruly curls. 

Sleeping children always look so peaceful, but it's best to think of them as dormant volcanoes: you never know when they'll erupt, and when they do, it's always memorable.


Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Over the river and through the bog

It's not every day that I get a chance to engage in lively debate about the proper way to form the plural of "Jack-in-the-Pulpit." Jacks-in-the-Pulpits? Jack-in-the-Pulpits? We rarely have need for the plural at my house, but a walk through a park near my daughter's house demanded the plural form.

I took the long way north today just so I could get a chance to visit Brown's Lake Bog near Shreve, Ohio, right in the heart of Amish country. It was perfect driving weather, featuring the kind of blue sky and fluffy clouds that made the whole place look like a tourist brochure, with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s, just warm enough to make me welcome the shade in the cool wet woods.

Brown's Lake Bog is small and was probably more impressive earlier in the season, but even today the boardwalk led past thick stands of ferns unfurling their fiddleheads and bright red, yellow, and orange pitcher plants reaching their mouths toward the sky. Later, with my daughter and son-in-law and grandkids, we hiked at River Styx park, where the trilliums are still triumphant and the yellow warblers call and faithful Jack keeps standing in green, white, and purple pulpits. 

I'm sure all those Jacks in their pulpits will keep standing through the storms in the forecast for the next couple of days, but I won't be back to visit them in the rain. And even if I did, I wouldn't know what to call them.


Pitcher plants

running into the sunset at River Styx


time to stop and smell the...dogwood

a picture of contentment

here's Jack!

a whole forest full of white trilliums but only two red ones

what is this?