Wednesday, April 2, 2014




Saturday, March 15, 2014

Someone else's garden...

Spring is just around the corner and around our house the gardens are coming to life. Even where it is more weeds than plants breaking the surface, it is always exciting to see greenery begin to push through the sun-warmed dirt.
Yesterday, I decided to finish cleaning up the Iris bed at the base of the flowering plum tree in our front yard. Last fall, I had separated most of the bulbs and thinned out the bed quite a bit, so it was lovely to see the shoots coming up this year! I definitely wanted to get the weeds out and build up the bed with some fresh composted soil and mulch. It was a beautiful mid-morning, clear blue sky and even some birds twittering away. As I walked outside and knelt down to start teasing little weeds from that Iris bed, my thoughts traveled back to an earlier time when she had likely done the exact same thing on a morning just like this one.
You see, this Iris bed was not always mine. There was another woman in another time who tended these flowers, and the other flowers around our yard. She nurtured the roses that bloom every year across the front of the yard, she smiled when the bluebells opened their delicate blossoms, and she probably muttered curses at the dandelions that seeded over from a neighbor's yard after she tried so hard to keep her lawn free of them. This washer home long before it was mine and though she has been gone for many years now, her presence lingers in these garden beds I love so much.
As I worked my way around the circular flower bed, my thoughts drifted back even further to another landscape item I grew to love, a monkey tree. Well, it started out as a stick about six inches tall twenty-four years ago now, but these days it is a strong tree with a story all its own. Pull up a seat for a minute and let me tell you about that little stick...
I was a young mother with a five year old daughter at the time, and my parents lived nearby. I had grown up in a gardening family, so it was never a surprise when my Dad called to tell me about whatever new plant or garden bed he had started. One day when the phone rang, it was Dad calling to tell me he had finally done it: He had gone out and bought himself a monkey tree! He had wanted one for years, he had found one on sale and brought it home, and of course he wanted us to come over and see it! So, I put my young daughter in the car and drove on over to see the new addition.
After the ordinary greetings when we entered Dad's house through the kitchen door, he led us out onto the front porch to be introduced to his new tree. His excitement was contagious, and I found myself anticipating this new tree with a pounding heart. What I saw upon stepping out the front door was definitely not what I expected. There, in the center of a large whiskey barrel painted blue to match the color of the house, was Dad's new monkey tree. He was so proud of it, I didn't really know what to say at first.
It certainly had lots of growing room in that great big whiskey barrel. It was a stick. No, really. It was a six inch tall stick with no leaves, no buds, no real sign of even being alive, right there in that barrel full of dirt. My Dad's smile took up his entire face, he was so thrilled. He assured me that though it didn't look like much just yet, it was indeed a healthy little start and would one day be a towering, beautiful monkey tree. I took his word for it.
The following year, while visiting at Dad's house, my daughter came running inside to tell me that the tree was growing! Sure enough, still right there in its sunny spot on the front porch, that little stick had grown a hat. There were four little spikey-looking things poking out from the sides at the top of that stick...which was still about six inches tall. But hey, it was doing something! Dad doted on that baby tree like a mother hen with her chick as a few more years passed...
By the time that little stick...er, um...I mean “tree” was four years old, it had thrust itself upward to an astounding height of about two feet and had two branches! Dad continued tending it carefully, and it remained in its sunny spot on the porch. Monkey trees are known for being extremely slow-growing, and my Dad was known for being extremely patient when it came to plants. It seemed to be a good combination, and both the tree and my Dad appeared pretty happy with the arrangement.
The spring that the little tree turned five years old, my Dad was no longer there to tend it. He had passed away that winter, and my Mom asked me if I would like to take Dad's tree home to my house and keep it. That is how it came to reside, still in its blue whiskey barrel, at the corner of my front yard. I thought at the time that Dad would like it there, in a really sunny spot where everyone could see it when they drove up. There it grew for the next five years, growing taller and adding branches slowly but steadily until one day when I noticed a darkening at the tips of its branches. I called a local tree service for advice and was told that the tree likely just needed to finally be planted in the ground...its roots were out of space in the pot and needed more room to expand. All I had to do was dig a crater in the yard to drop it into and that little tree could have a new home.
Yes, I said a crater. The hole was supposed to be four feet in diameter and at least two feet deep with another foot of the soil loosened at the bottom. I remember these details very well because of the effort it took to dig that hole with a pickaxe and spade shovel in ground that had been undisturbed lawn for over forty years. Once I had the hole prepared, I faced the daunting task of un-potting the four foot tall tree covered with prickly spikes. There was simply no way I was going to be able to get that tree out of its barrel without tearing the skin off of my entire upper body, so with heavy heart I set about cutting the metal bands that held the barrel together. I pried the wooden slats away from the root ball and used my shovel to loosen the dirt and roots, all the while remembering how excited my Dad had been as he looked forward to this tree growing. The whiskey barrel's blue paint had faded over the years and Mom had moved from the house the blue paint had matched...it was an end to a piece of my family's history.
But that tree took to its new place like a fish to water and remained strong and healthy. I thought of my Dad every time I trimmed its lower branches off and checked it for any bugs that would threaten it. And it grew. And I smiled.
Several years later, I sold that house and moved my family to a small nearby town. Dad's monkey tree made the trip with us lashed upright in the back of a friend's pickup truck filled with dirt. Knowing the preciousness of his cargo, my friend drove slowly and carefully, turning a two hour trip into a four hour trip in order to assure safe passage for Dad's tree. A huge hole was already prepared for it and though it was late in the day when we arrived, nothing was more important that getting that tree safely back into the ground. It seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as I stood there in the fading daylight showering it with a gentle stream from the hose. I tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen so though Dad's tree was placed in the front yard, we made sure it was visible from inside the kitchen window.
Eventually I moved from that house, too...but this time, Dad's tree simply could not move with me. I was a little surprised at how emotional an event it was to leave it behind, having watched it grow from that tiny stick on Dad's front porch into an established tree over ten feet tall fifteen years later. I still live not too far from that small town with a small white house that has a monkey tree in the corner of the front yard, so I can drive by and see it sometime...and remember how such beautiful things can grow from such humble beginnings.
Back to that Iris bed. Today it is bathed in bright sunshine, and next to it the rose bushes are budding with tiny new leaves. The weight of such a day as this is not lost on me. I only have these lovely things to care for because at one time someone else cared for them first. She planted them, watered them, and hoped for the best. She beamed when they blossomed and she brought some of the blossoms inside to enjoy even after the sun went down. Maybe she even talked to them like I do...mumbling her thoughts and musing over day to day things with them as if they were old friends. Sometimes I wonder if they miss her, if they puzzle over who this new person is taking care of them.
People remind me sometimes that this garden is mine now and that it is fine to change things and make it my own. I understand what they mean because it has always been truly important to me to “set down roots” and have my home reflect the person that I am. I am definitely doing that, adding new plants and arranging things in our gardens a little differently here and there. It will be a joy to see everything grow through the coming years, remembering that one day I will be “that woman who used to live here and care for this garden”. Someday someone might wonder about me and whether or not I talked to the plants and got frustrated over dandelions.
Time marches onward that way, doesn't it? My one hundred and one year old Grandmother used to be a timid new mother with a brand-new baby to raise while waiting for my Grandfather to return from World War II. Then my mother raised a family, grew bumper crops of vegetables, hung laundry to dry, and ushered her children on to build their own families. My own children are now raised and I am embarking on the new adventure of grandmother-hood myself, amazed at how this story never changes much. Oh, technology has definitely progressed and things these days move at lightening speed compared to when my Grandmother was a young woman. But the bedrock beneath our lives has not budged. We live surrounded by the past, enveloped by the experiences of those who came before us, whether through our own families or through others who we come to hold dear. We cannot escape their lives intertwining ours and we can never really claim that we have achieved something entirely new. Someone else has done the very same thing before us, perhaps even leaving behind the tangible blessing of a living history for us to nurture. Gardens are like that...if we quiet our busy selves just enough and simply get really quiet inside, we can hear them tell us their stories.
In the meantime, I have flower beds to weed out and mulch...trees to smile about. These gardens here are mine now, but they were not always. I remember...and I'm listening.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The man I never knew...

There was once a man
Handsome, strong, and able
Loving, kind, and honest.
Blue eyes rivaling the sky
He was once...or would have been.

Some say dreams are real
That life is the land of shadows,
Of unreal things we cling to
Forcing them toward solid form.
One shift of sand, one tilt of earth
And all we know is upside down.

In sleep this man is with me
But waking steals his face away
Leaving empty Mother's arms aching with the lack of his weight.

Some say God remembers.
In God's memory”, they say he lives, so there is hope.
God is not forgetful, not even of sweet milky breath.
He knows things I do not, exists outside of Time.
So how does He recall those blue eyes?
Wrapped in infant flesh?
Grown to give sight to the most honorable of men?
Or as the Grandpa he will never be?

Where does his potential blossom...
Infant innocence and manly maturity unite?
Once a baby nestled in a Mother's arms
Tender breaths concluded all too soon.

One hundred eighty degrees...half a circle...incomplete, yet amazing in itself.
One hundred eighty years...two, maybe three lifetimes.
One hundred eighty months...so many nights flooded with full moon's light.
One hundred eighty days...a mere blink...not nearly enough to know the man who could have been.

It rained the day we saw him last,
His tiny shell dressed like such a man.
Dark clouds wrapped us up and the whole earth seemed to weep.
He journeys now in oceans deep and coastal waves,
Rippling ever outward, visiting lands those blue eyes never cast a gaze upon.
Yet still I cling, unable to bear the final parting.

Out of time, his leaving was.
Not correct...out of order...not as all should be.
Hence the ripping pain, always present, never ceasing.
Many days the Mother's eyes stay dry
Many nights a clawing grief shreds her dreams, raking its talons across her heart again.
How many band-aids does it take to soothe a severed limb?
The count continues.

There was once a man...or should have been.
There was once a mother to a son.
The number of completion swirls into view...
The eighth trip of the earth around the sun since his newborn cry sang into the night announcing his arrival.
A year of finishing...
Of learning how to conclude something that barely began.

Until then, the haunting...
by a man I never knew.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A new life for Chasing the Shade!

In the spirit of re-using old things and turning them into something new, Chasing the Shade is under a major renovation! We have decided NOT to remove the blog during this re-structuring process, but will simply allow it to morph into its new entity right here in front of you.

All of the important stuff will remain right here, though in a more organized and searchable fashion. New areas will also be added, bringing a vast amount of material here into one house, including cooking and recipe ideas, discussions on frugal living, crafting projects, gardening and food preservation and a monthly guest post by other noted writers and specialists in various fields.

Our focus recently has evolved to embrace the essence of life here in the suburbs, but with the added elements of a quiet and independent lifestyle whenever possible. Many years ago in my old neighborhood, several of my neighbors joked with me about my "little suburban farm". It was true: we grew and enormous garden, raised rabbits and ducks, and enjoyed the benefits of preserving many of our own foods. Every autumn we brought home a pickup truck full of fresh corn from a local farm. Processing one hundred dozen ears of corn (Yes, I said two hundred DOZEN...or over a thousand ears!) is a fair amount of work, so we always turned it into a community event by inventing our neighbors and friends to help. At the end of it all, everyone took home some freshly packed corn for their freezer, we had enough corn to last our own family for the entire year to come, as well as the perfect garden mulch cover of corn husks!

 Now, not everyone will enjoy these kinds of activities, or will prefer to do them on a smaller scale. The point is that most of us will never live on a rural farm with tons of acres of land, but we can still enjoy many of the benefits of a simpler lifestyle and independent living. To that end, we are expanding Chasing the Shade to include material with that focus.

Thanks to all of you who have visited over the years, and we look forward to your comments on our new look. As always, we appreciate your suggestions and feedback. Meanwhile, keep looking forward to the coming springtime, remember to be kind to one another, and stay tuned for all the great things to come here in the Shade!

Here's to our independence...
Lorrie

Where's the shade??

Living in a hot climate, one becomes accustomed to seeking out areas of cool shade. Retreat from the heat of the sun can be necessary on hot days. I learned this when I lived in southern California...”hot and dry” took on a whole new definition to this girl who was accustomed to the Pacific Northwest! Likewise, retreat from the pressures of day-to-day life can also require that we back up and find a cool spot to re-group and collect our peace and strength. 

Trials come in all shapes and sizes, from minor irritations that try our patience, to devastating interruptions that threaten the continuation of our lives as we know them. Whether great or small, sorrow and struggle will come to all of us and will inevitably change us. There can be no light without darkness, no recognition of peace if there has never been war, and no healing so vastly appreciated as when it comes at the end of a season of great pain. Even the scorching sun is partly responsible for the refreshment of cool shade, as the shade could not exist were it not for the hot sun pushing us to find a cool place. The heat itself produces our refuge.

Everyone knows the age-old question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?". My answer has always been that the chicken came first because the Bible says that God created all the animals...not the embryonic beginnings of the animals that may or may not develop into animals. Then he told them to be fruitful and multiply...hence, the eggs. Similarly, without the sun existing first, there would be no need for nor opportunity for shade. Without challenges and trials, there would be no need for nor opportunity for resolution and peace. The question then, is not which came first. The question really is whether or not we are willing to embrace the existence of the one in order to experience the blessing of the other. We might even ask if we have such a choice because rarely are we in control of all of the circumstances that befall us. The sun rises every morning with absolutely no input from us, and challenges will come our way just as certainly as that sunrise.

In the meantime, we find ourselves chasing the shade.


"And there will be a tabernacle for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain."  ~Isaiah 4:6