Homeward

canada_geese

Each winter morning, about 7:30, their cries preceed them.

I step outside as they fly into view. It only takes a few minutes for them to fill the air above the flat corner lot. Sometimes they are so low, I can hear the sky wafting through their stiff wings. Part trumpet, part bark, their voices inspirit the newly risen sun, the praising trees, and the admiring witness below. Encouraging each other, swapping places, their loose chevron makes its way south from the historic public golf course where they sleep to the park memorializing fallen firefighters where they feed. Canada geese, scores of them, permanent residents in our town.

I remember Linda.

Her cancer was in remission when Linda entered the graduate program. Her faith, however, her joy, her enchantment with life hadn’t seemed to abate one tiny bit. It seemed she loved learning all she could about anyone around her. Linda listened disarmingly well. She laughed easily. She seemed freely poised to become a brilliant counselor.

The University of  Wisconsin in Superior occupies unremarkable brick buildings across the harbor from Duluth, Minnesota. Not long after fall semester begins, nights grow quickly and chill deeply. Linda’s bright, warm presence in class rewarded my weekly trips 110 miles down the dark two-lane highway.

Nearing mid-terms, she was absent. One week, no big deal, but two weeks? Linda came to class one more time, her head wrapped in a gorgeous scarf, her eyebrows thinning, her face pale but brilliantly alight. Her doctor still hoped this round of treatment would send her cancer back into hiding, but she wouldn’t have the strength to rejoin us until afterward. She gave us her address and phone number, saying she would love to stay in touch.

I was nervous about calling. Linda’s illness presented me with uncharted terriory. What would I ask? What could I say? Her courage and cheer were irresistable, however, and I was fascinated by her journey. She welcomed me with apparent pleasure.

At the time of my visit, she’d been told: the cancer overwhelming her colon ignored the chemical attempts to stop it. Time was limited. Pain could be controlled. Loss of life force could not. She would leave. Husband. Household. Family. Church. Friends. And yet she wouldn’t be conquered. She laughed. She showed me photographs. She told her favorite stories. And when I cried in marvel and elated sorrow, she cried, too.

From the loft of my tiny house, standing on the edge of a broad, silent meadow, I heard them. Crooning calls, hundreds of them. Their long lines, fresh from the arctic, waved through the graying sky. At the sight of Lake Superior, they directed each other to turn east, toward Duluth, toward the house where Linda rested between visitors, between breaths, between worlds. The Canada geese took turns in the lead, each winging body easing the way for the one in its draft. Going home. South or north, they were always going home.

When the air was again silent, I took out a box of crochet threads. Black, warm grays, downy white. And I made a small pouch. I don’t remember, now, what I put in it. There may have been sage, tobacco, a feather.

Trembling, I wrote a letter. I couldn’t know everything she was feeling. I couldn’t know what she would experience. I couldn’t know exactly where it would be or what it would look like. And yet, Linda, I understood that you were going home. I hoped in some small way, this little bundle, embued with the spirit of the geese, would be a comfort on the journey.

In January or February, but during a thaw, I received a letter from Linda’s husband. When she left, she held the bundle. It went with her. She’d asked him to write me because, she’d told him, she knew I would rejoice with her, for her, at the news.

down goose feather

There have been many prompts to think about home, recently. My trip to Switzerland, the holidays, an upcoming trip to visit Mom in Iowa, the twice daily overhead cries of the geeses, even the current drought in Colorado. This post is the first in a series regarding what it means to be Home. If it sets your own thoughts loose, I’d love to hear from you. Come on home. We’ll have tea.

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Only Because

“I’ve got nothing to lose and only myself to please,” she said, as if it were fact.

We stood in midday heat, puzzling out changes to make in her garden. She, a widow with grown children and young grandchildren; a snowbird wintering elsewhere, summering here; a small woman with copper and gold highlights in her hair. These are the facts. Yet, which paragraph is more evocative?

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man has once again nominated gardenhood for a blog award. It’s a fact. Yet what does it reveal? Think about that for a couple of seconds, while I thank Kevin profusely for the nomination, his kind support of my writing, and the many ways his own writing cheers and teaches me.

liebster-blog-award

Now for a disclaimer, an aside, a disruption in the flow of the narrative, which breaks a cardinal rule of good writing (except when Shakespeare did it). I decided to accept the award only because it came from Kevin. Near as I can tell, these awards (and there are quite a few), are designed to up a blog’s visibility and readership. There’s no competition, no voting, no academy of blogospheric accomplishments. There are only rules to follow, and then you claim the award. The rules involve thanking the nominator and providing a link to their site, revealing information about yourself, and nominating and linking to other sites. It’s actually a lot of work. Well, it is for me. So, I decided to bend the rules, only because thinking about how to follow them, I turned them into writing exercises, a way to kick out the winter holiday induced block in my writing life.

Which seemed like more fun and more fair to you.

So, on with it.

The first exercise: What can you tell about a person with eleven unembellished facts? It probably depends on the person (in this case yours truly) and the facts. What’s your guess?

The Facts

  • 1) In the John F. Kennedy high school class of 1971 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 2) my name appears in alphabetical order right after Jim’s, 3) and he reads gardenhood.
  • 4) I went to northern Minnesota and acquired an accent.
  • 5) I still have it, sort of.
  • 6) My brand new Hausschuhe are felted Haflinberger clogs.
  • 7) On the same day I bought them I also bought chains for my hiking shoes.
  • 8) I start each day by saying out loud, “Yes, thank You!”
  • 9) The vision for the flat corner lot is under reconstruction.
  • 10) My hair is its own color.
  • 11) I complete my 60th solar return on February 3 at 1:41 Mountain time.

Exercise two: Kevin asked me 11 questions. I’ll provide the answers. It’s like writing only one side of a dialog. Can you discern the questions in the answers?

Mid morning. Because it still feels like anything can happen and I usually have even more energy than when I awoke.

I was in first grade, and I stayed in from recess because I was having so much fun writing a story. That summer I planted carrots in the sandbox, my first garden.

When Breakfast Club came out in 1985, I lived 80 miles and an international border from the nearest movie theatre. So, I have no idea in which high school group I best fit. I’m not sure I would know now, even if I had a movie to guide me.

I write at the solid oak desk I inherited from my father in a room I call the studio. I always feel like I’m steeping when I’m here.

I laugh in pure joy whenever I hear the choral movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

On a television talent show, my talent would be making a graceful exit.

The dandelion. Tough, resilient, bright, entirely useful, prolific.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. Because it engages all my senses, including my sense of wonder and magic.

Eggplant.

I live where rain is an event, and rarely falls a whole day. I rejoice whenever it happens.

Carl Sagan. Then what happens?

Exercise three: If you wanted to get a group of people with diverse backgrounds interested in a complete stranger, what questions would you ask the stranger? What questions would you like someone to ask of you? Next are a few of mine.

What are your growing edges, in gardening or in life?

Describe the place on earth where you are most at home.

What do you listen for in the voices of others?

What have you always wanted to tell your mother and never dared?

How do you deal with imperfection?

What is your definition of beauty?

How have your perspectives changed in the last decade?

What is your best memory from middle school?

What does the smell of roses evoke for you?

How do you relax?

What are people most likely to say about you?

One more confession: I’m exhausted by research. I have the sort of personality that wants to jump headlong into synthesis with only a handful of information. I constantly rewrite sentences to fill in the blanks I jump over, eager to get to the next idea. When it comes to finding blogs to read or recommend, I prefer to let others do the vetting for me. Over the last two years, that strategy hasn’t netted me a very long list. In the interest of meeting my final requirement — that of nominating 11 blogs and putting their writers through this gauntlet — I trudged out into the blogosphere digging for some new ones. My criteria surfaced as I searched. I looked for whimsy, beauty, smiles, a sense of connection, and writing that pulled the mud-heavy boots from my heart. After far too many hours, and feeling like I’d just read 15 seed catalogs cover to cover, I pooped out. At nine.

I know most of you stop by to read gardenhood and aren’t looking for other reads. Maybe, like me, you feel as though you’re spending way too much time staring at blue-lighted screens and not enough time looking at soft white paper, kind faces, beautiful landscapes, and living earth. Nonetheless, if you’d like to visit a few other sites, here you go.

Griffins and Gingersnaps

Jordan Ketttley

Naure’s Place

Gypsy Sunshine

Enjoy Succulents

A 3 Acre Farm (Kevin already nominated this blog for the award, but I wanted to recommend it to you).

Lelo in Nopo

Danger Garden

Richard Huston Art