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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Today I want to praise extravagance. Since the go-go years on Wall Street that brought about our current economic woes, and since more of us have become aware of our ecological footprints, extravagance has gotten a bad name, but there are multiple extravagances, and it is some of those that I wish to praise, in no particular order.

• This morning, the deep green of the dogwood leaves was broken by the arrival of a male cardinal, extravagantly red, noisy, and exuberantly checking out the state of the dogwood berries, or whatever else in the tree might have been edible. Other birds manage to attract mates without being quite so eye-catching (and as Julie Zickefoose has noted, being eye-catching is often dangerous for cardinals), but such colorful perfection was this morning’s blessing.

• Berries themselves. The next time someone complains about the seeds of blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries, remind them that the fruits we and the birds crave are really seed dispersal mechanisms. Those luscious berries lure us in so that seeds can be spread more widely than the parent plants can spread them, and aren’t we lucky that the universe opted for this extravagant method of plant reproduction?

• Seeds in general. Those of us who aren’t faithful deadheaders of spent blossoms find that birds help themselves to our coneflowers and coreopsis, and in the process, scatter seed and make new plants. If we don’t immediately sweep up all the purchased seed spilled under our birdfeeders, we are rewarded by free sunflowers and millet. Let’s hear it for the extravagant generosity of free plants.

• The extravagant laziness of house cats. Is there anything more totally relaxed than a fat middle-aged cat sacked out on the sofa? (Or more generally graceful than cats, anyway?)

• The energy and generosity of certain young humans. This afternoon, I was privileged to attend a benefit for a cancer patient, organized by her young adult children and their friends. They had acquired donations of goods and services ranging from massages to meals to football weekends, and people who knew the woman in question packed the town hall and opened their hearts and their wallets. Love is always a good kind of extravagance.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taking nothing for granted

Having planned to do a lot of writing this summer, I find that life (along with my general lack of organization) got in the way, as it tends to do. But I’m in good company: Eric T. Freyfogle, editor of The New Agrarianism, a collection of essays I’m currently enjoying, notes that “agrarians have typically been happier to live their lives than to write about them” (xviii). And while I’m hesitant to describe myself as agrarian, having been contentedly ensconced in one town or another for the last thirty-five years, the low-key pleasures of a localized and semi-outdoorsy life have become increasingly important as I move toward old age.

This has been an unexpectedly rough summer, emotionally. An old friend, a highly competent Renaissance man active in educational, environmental, and artistic circles, is fading away from Alzheimer’s; a longtime acquaintance, a woman about my age, is experiencing serious unspecified neurological problems; a troubled relative in her early fifties, after decades of erratic behavior, has recently been diagnosed with a progressive neurological disease, always fatal and always hideous. Part of my next few years will involve helping this individual die as peacefully as possible. My own good luck—being reasonably healthy, gainfully employed, and happily enmeshed in a web of relationships—seems more and more a kind of amazing grace.  All I can do in response, it seems, is to pay attention as much as possible.

In our immediate corner of the world, this has been a good week: the yard drainage project has been completed, creating not one but three new planting beds in the process (though the heat and dry weather have not yet revealed whether or not the basement will remain dry). Friends and acquaintances have offered plants to fill in some of the new spaces, so a friendship garden is being created. (Not that there aren’t already plants with stories in the existing beds—these daylilies                            
were acquired by my Bulgarian friend Milena in 2007, from a nursery owner who gave her far larger clumps than those offered to other purchasers that day. We suspect an infatuation with her accent.)
Other joys of the week include these:
  •  Meals in which nearly all the food was locally raised.  Sitting down to a meal in which the chicken, the potatoes, the green beans, the tomatoes, the blueberries, and the wheat for the cookies all originated within a twenty-minute drive of our dining room is a reminder of what a rich area the Mid-Ohio Valley truly is.  Now if only chocolate, coffee, and grapes for Chardonnay could be grown somewhere nearby, I could truly be a locavore. . .

  • The serendipitous combination of rose "Lady Elsie May" blooming with a nameless bicolor daylily that has accompanied me to three houses 

  • •Sightings of two of the Black Squirrels of North Parkersburg

  •  Chipmunks becoming regular visitors to our feeders, and (drum roll, please)

  • •The return of the goldfinches!  The ratibida, sunflowers, and silphium are blooming just in time.