About Me

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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Walking on Sunshine

This week's wind has torn the leaves off the trees much too soon, but one result has been that the yard near the sugar maples is covered with yellow leaves that never got the chance to turn their signature orange. The path to the compost pile and (what would be, if the plants would decide to grow) the shrubbery and the fern grotto is a sea of the brightest color available on these gray days. Luckily for the neighbors, the weather has been cold and rainy enough to squelch my urge to dance around the yard singing "Walking on Sunshine" (of which I can only remember one line, anyway).

Photosynthesis has always been a mystery to me (apologies to the scientists among us). Back in Biology 101, I tried to wrap my mind around the chemical reactions but never quite got clear on how the process worked. It was always enough for me to know that leaves turn sunlight into food and oxygen, a miracle that allows most of the rest of life to exist. And yes, autumn color comes from the exhaustion of the leaves' chlorophyll supply, but every leaf that litters (?) the ground has spent its life consuming the sun's energy; it has been eating the sunlight. Before you rake up all your leaves, consider that you are indeed "walking on sunshine." And we get to do it every year.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The last flowers of summer

For the last few days, we've been threatened with frost, and I thought I saw some on the grass early yesterday morning, but a few last flowers have been carrying bravely on even after the goldenrod and asters have called it quits for the year. This afternoon, I cut with abandon and now have bouquets for the house.
  • The lavender has decided to bloom again, giving the possibility of sweet scents through the winter.
  • The cosmos, which limped along in our nearly-sterile yellow clay all summer, have all decided to bloom at once.
  • Coleus aren't flowers (or at least, the flowers aren't what I like about them), but all three varieties in our porch pots this year continue to be spectacular.
  • Most of the rudbeckia have gone to seed, but several of the old-fashioned black-eyed susans have thrown out their endlessly cheerful, bright-yellow blossoms, keeping company with late gaillardia (which are going enthusiastically to seed, giving the hope of more to come next year).
  • The snapdragons continue to send up spikes in pink, burgundy, yellow, and white, and last forever in vases.
  • The deep coral-red hummingbird mint planted only this summer continues to bloom.
  • Salvia "Hummingbird Coral," lantana, and sedum make a symphony of pinks that go nicely with the burgundy-leafed physocarpus in the streetside garden.
  • And one last gaura has sent up a flower spike, which sits cheerfully on the table next to my chair.
Summer probably won't hang on much longer, but the show has been spectacular.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Restless Fall

"The leaves on the trees are fallin'
To the sound of the breezes that blow"--

Okay, our leaves are being ripped off the trees by howling winds, but October (which is nearly over--how?!?) always brings Van Morrison's classic "Moondance" to mind. In my vanished youth, it always seemed the most romantic song I knew. (And thirty years after hearing the song for the first time, I ended up marrying a man who has written at least two love songs set in October. Is there a pattern here?)

But this fall, I feel as restless as the leaves. For the first time in decades, my only caregiving responsibilities are to cats (and a yard, but plants planted by me have to be tough), and I find myself checking out city-data forums on the internet, imagining other lives. My spouse's decamping to the University of Toledo has no doubt contributed to this restlessness, since I've spent more time driving over the past fourteen months than in the previous forty years. The changing landscape as the Appalachian foothills of West Virginia give way to the rolling farmlands of Amish country and then to the open sky of the flatlands of northwest Ohio is a source of delight every time I point the car toward my home away from home. Discovering the southernmost part of Michigan's north woods a few weekends ago has given a whole new area to explore--but of course, never enough time.

I can't help wondering what the next adventure will be.

Friday, October 7, 2011

More Gifts

Little Ranch on the (Eventual) Prairie has been the recipient of a variety of gift plants this year. (Doesn't "gift plant" sound nicer than "volunteer" or "weed"?) Native asters have been particularly generous.

Note how the wild form of New England aster nestled in next to "Wild Romance," creating a delightful fall combination.
The "Dortmund" rose next to this white aster is not nearly as happy with its new neighbor as "Wild Romance" is.
But the aster is proving to be so spectacular (and so popular with pollinators of all kinds) that I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it.
It needs a new home--but it really does make a nice foreground for two other gift plants: a four-foot goldenrod and a ten-foot pokeweed, screening our view of the street.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Today I wish to chortle with delight over eupatorium, not the Joe Pye weed that so many of us know and love, but some of the lesser-known members of the genus. I'm not sure I have positive IDs for the various eupatoriums (eupatoria?) that have volunteered in our yard, but I can tell you that whatever the plants are, they seem to be popular with pollinators, and I've become fond of the flowers even though they aren't as showy as their tall pink relatives.

The photo above is from the USDA PLANTS database. I did not grow this lovely specimen of eupatorium album (white thoroughwort), but this species, or one that looks a lot like it, has been an enthusiastic colonizer in our meadow garden this summer.

The purple-flowering plant in the photo to the left is one I brought from our old house. I had always called it wild ageratum but have since discovered a much more romantic-sounding name, blue mist flower. Scientific names seem to keep changing these days, but the current name seems to be Conoclinium coelestinum.

The plant grows on roadsides in our area, but I've not been able to get it to spread yet in our yard.
The white-flowering plant next to it was a mystery volunteer in the meadow garden last year, was allowed to go to seed, and is now everywhere.

Fearing that we were being taken over by some seriously invasive thug, I finally got serious about trying to identify the plant.

Good news: our unknown visitor seems to be Eupatorium hyssopifolium, hyssop-leaved thoroughwort, a native that is actually threatened in neighboring Ohio.

 I am pleased to report that it seems to be happy here in wild, wonderful West Virginia.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Friday brought a monarch nectaring at the lantana on the porch ledge. It brought also the question that autumn always brings: will this be the last one? Not the last monarch in existence, to be (almost) sure, given the caterpillars that shredded the milkweed this summer, but the last monarch for this year? The last vivid flutterer before autumn arrives in earnest and the serious chill sets in?

The truth is that we cannot know when the last of something will occur. This afternoon will bring the memorial service for my mother, who died three weeks ago, so I’ve been meditating on “lasts.” She had failed seriously a few weeks before her death, bringing the flurry of activity and attention that such events generally do, but rallied, bringing a sigh of relief and the possibility that this “tough old bird” (as one of her doctors described her nearly twenty years ago—surely she wasn’t old then!) would cheat death one more time, as she’d been doing since 1983 when she overcame Stage 3 uterine cancer. However, after several days of good appetite, good humor, and visits with friends and relatives, she began shutting down for good. Thanks to a lot of good people, her last two weeks were among the best she’d had in years.

Would our behavior change if we knew that we might be experiencing something for the last time? If the noisy chickadee at the feeder were our last bird, would we take time to enjoy its hyperactivity instead of ignoring it and hoping to catch sight of an unusual fall warbler? If that rose on “Lady Elsie May” were our last rose, would we take the time to appreciate its subtle color variation and the gentle ruffling of its petals? If this year’s asters were to be our last flowers, would we be grateful for the cascades of purple on nearly every unmown roadside, or the weedy white wood’s-edge asters that are working with tiny pollinators and from a distance look like bridal-wreath spirea? Would the tidy among us cease to curse goldenrod and the giant purple stems of pokeweed?

I don’t know, but I do know that Buddha was right about at least one thing: most of us go through life not fully awake. Note to self: this is a beautiful world. Pay attention.