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How to Start a Good Day

Sunday, July 5, 2015

It's taken Liam awhile to get into the swing of summer training for cross-country, but I can see him starting to look forward to his morning run. It helps that it's been miraculously cool here, overcast but bright. It helps that the fields smell absolutely Elysian after the recent haying. Like his mother, he is a creature of the senses. 

We left together, but it wasn't long before I had to stop for a bouquet. He kept going, saving the music I find obnoxious for when he was out of earshot. He's a considerate boy. I can't imagine having any music but the birds and insects when I'm running. I am in the minority, I know, but I'd as soon run blindfolded as stick plugs in my ears that would drown out the hum, buzz and rattle, the warbles and twitters; the music of the summer fields. 

It wasn't long before Liam was but a red dot on the hill. Thanks to their superior speed and youth, I've never actually been able to run "with" my kids. That's OK. I'm good alone. If I need to talk, I'll talk to the dog. 

Or the cattle. I am very taken with this year's crop of calves. This is such a handsome and unusual boy with his white face and rich brown body. 

I love getting to know the new calves. The little bull on the right has just gotten up and is stretching. See his dropped chin and raised tail?

The cow I call Whitey (I know, not very creative) has an all-brown calf this year! How do you get an all-brown calf out of such a flashy, beautifully marked mother and the classically marked Hereford father?

This is Bully, the putative father.  I don't know. Maybe Bully isn't this calf's father. I need to ask Bob. I love the little white rings around the base of both Bully's ears. He is a very nice bull in every way. He's steady and kind. Bulls always look so round, so firm, so fully packed. They haven't got calves draining them dry all day, after all.

I go a little farther and see Liam hunkered down well ahead in the road. I wonder if he's looking at an interesting roadkill, and decide not. He's way too squeamish to hunker down next to one the way I do.

I figure out what he was up to when I get closer.

These kids, they light up my life. No boy could be sweeter than Liam. In an answer for him to find on the return trip, I send an arrow through his heart with pebbles. By the time he comes back, though, the Sunday morning church traffic has smooshed and scattered our correspondence. It's the thought that counts.

Thrilled to see Bob has let the milkweed meadow go this year. I'm unused to seeing such ripe hay around here. Then again, it's been so wet he may not have gotten a chance to cut it.

We have our own little Fourth of July fireworks going on.

 I can hardly run for all the things I'm seeing. I enjoy it all so. I got to thinking this morning that my life would seem impossibly austere to many people. I don't drink, alter myself with any substance, go out at night, go to movies, go to malls; I don't hang out at bars unless we're playing in one. I wear 25-year-old clothes, supplemented by the occasional Eddie Bauer outlet binge. I go to the grocery store and the bank once a week.  I don't go much of anywhere unless I'm giving a talk or leading a field trip.

 My life is geared to have the maximum opportunity

 to do 



I think about the last shot I took, sort of hard and spiritless, and swing around to get some sidelight on the same milkweed plant. That's better.

I see a spiny cucumber vine climbing the ShadowBarn, something that never would have been allowed to happen when Lester and Linda lived there. My neighbors have both long gone to their rewards, too early. Both of them chainsmoked, and I saw it coming probably long before they did.

It feels funny to have outlived anyone, but that's what happens when you live somewhere for 22 years.

Such a pretty vine. I rip spiny cucumber vines off my raspberries every day. It grows a mile a minute, throwing curly tendrils on everything.
Looks like it went into the barn for a few days and then thought better of that.

Came back out into the light, it did.

Around the side, I find the same plant climbing a hapless chicory. Chet bombs the photo, pauses while I shoot. Atta boy. At this point he knows I want him in every shot. Of course I do.

I don't know what I'll find around the south side of the barn until I round the corner. 
And it takes my breath away.

Sure, chicory and field daisies came here from Europe, but so did my grandparents. 
Today, we're all true blue Americans.

I'm so deep in my right brain I have no idea I've just shot a red, white and blue tableau until several people point it out to me on Facebook. Oh! Aren't I clever. Not. All I am is dazzled by the perfection of these rough-sawn boards, the paint weathered away everywhere but the saw grooves, and this impossible, shivery blue lavender flower that I love more than almost any other. And barn red? The perfect backdrop. Is it any wonder we painted our house exactly this hue?

Today, the rose of Sharon "Satin Blue" is out full as full can be. 
I love this plant so, so much. Even though it throws leggy babies all through my gardens. Look at those deep green leaves, those thickly clustered blossoms, that growth habit. It's a real improvement on the old-fashioned plant. That color!! It's almost as nice as chicory blue.
When we were deciding on the house color I put color chips behind this plant and picked the one that set it off best. Think I got it right this time. 

Another alien gone native, another perfect summer bouquet. 

Someone has planted little cemetery flags on the corner of Best Hollow Road. I approve.
When they get old and tattered and faded I gather them up and bring them home and hang them in my studio. I think they're so much more beautiful that way. Maybe it's because I'm getting a bit weathered too.

We go to the old farmstead, and find the wet year has made a bumper crop of crabapples. These are delicious little things when ripe, yellow with a red blush. I love sour things and eat them by the handful in September.

The well gives up its coolness to us. The water's still moving from Chet's lapping, but he doesn't let me catch him drinking.

I inspect the Concord grape that feeds me so well in autumn. Oh my gosh there are banquets everywhere a-coming! I've never seen such a year, fruit hanging heavy everywhere I look.

The vine clambers over stacks of pipe in the mouth of an old shed.
I can't wait to photograph these when the grapes are blue and the leaves are yellow.

The open window of the old house beckons, but I won't be shinnying in there to explore today. 
I like to have company for such a venture.

The last time I went in I found the most marvelous things. I placed an old dinette chair just inside the window to ease my passage for the next time, so I won't have to land on my hands on broken glass and nails.

I'll tell you about that excellent adventure soon. Please note awesome 40's wallpaper.

A wild turkey tailfeather. I always find turkey tracks, feathers and poop on this unusued lane. 
I stop to examine it, and it tells me things.

This feather came from a year-old bird. Not this year's poult, but 2014's.  I can tell it's a young bird by the uncertain and indistinct black barring. The little white fault marks on the shaft mark interruptions and surges in growth, typical of young birds. Perhaps there are those who could tell the sex of the bird from this feather, but I'm not one of them. This bird is molting its central tail feathers in the late-summer molt. New longer ones will grow in, and that will give its fanned tail a distinctive uneven outline--a bump out--at the apex of the fan. That will persist through its next spring and summer. You can age a wild turkey that way. Young birds have protruding central feathers in the fanned tail. When the bird molts and replaces all its tail feathers, the fanned tail will have an even outline, so you'll know it's older than two.

We move down the hill and I find the mystery slip has slipped further down the face of The Toothless Lady.

If I really wanted to, it's low enough now that I could snag it and try it on. I might just take it one of these days, when it falls. I don't understand how it's still hanging on after all these months, but it hasn't been a very windy summer.

I laugh to think of how I'll look in it, and whether I'll be bold enough to post a photo.
Something to look forward to for the easily amused.

Headed home now, and there's that chicory again. The light is hard now, but it's not getting too hot. This summer is a gift.

Chet stretches out in the shade on our road, and I sit down beside him to let him rest. He notices the scabs on my legs from all the brush clearing I've been doing, and tenderly cleans me up.

I always think of how Gomez kissed Morticia up and down her arms on The Addams Family when Chet does this.
He has this special lick he does when he finds a bleeding scratch that's very soft and tentative, very tender. I just love the notion that a dog could empathize, be so careful, and know what hurts. His breeder Jane Streett used to tell me stories about Chet Baker as a little puppy before we came to pick him up. She said he used to chew on her toes as she worked at her computer. When he bit too hard with his tiny milk teeth, Jane would yelp, and Chet would immediately switch to licking her toes.

Ten years later, he is still the sweet boy.

Waiting in a nest box along the driveway: new bluebirds. The cycle comes around again.

This is how we start a good day.


I like that pebble heart that your son left for you, and the bluebird babies, and all the fruit like the apples that are ripening. You have a lovely place to walk. I do too but it is in town, along our bay.

It's 4:51 p.m. and you made me cry throughout this entire lovely blogpost. You know I only cry in the mornings! Your heart and mind are so open and generous and true. Your soul affects me in a good way! ***Love you***

My life, too, would seem austere to most, for most of the reasons you give. To me, it's not austerity, but simplicity. I can better focus my attention on the things that really matter to me if I don't have shiny things and bells and whistles competing for my attention. People don't know what they are missing by looking at their iPhones instead of looking around them, or by listening to what passes for music these days instead of the sounds of the birds. Technology and modern conveniences are great, and I wouldn't want to be without them... but they seem to have taken over most people's lives to the point where nature is an inconvenience at best, or something to be feared at worst.

Posted by Anonymous July 5, 2015 at 6:31 PM

You definitely know how to start a good day!

Mimimanderly has it right when she notes that people don't know what they are missing. Yet Julie takes these photos with an iPhone. She has not forgotten to observe - with all her senses - the wonders of the world that surround us all but get drowned out by too many distractions if we are not careful to slow down our running. Thanks for appreciating all the little beautiful things in life - including old structures. And for sharing that with your wonderful children.

Thanks so much for your observations and for taking time to share them with us. I pass them on to friends here and just sent them to my niece in NH. You have made me so much more observant as I go around my little patch of earth and feed birds, turtles, bunnies, etc. We even had a grey fox go by the other day, and we live in a cozy part of a good-sized city. Bless you. Can't wait for the new book. Oh, when I was checking on our second bluebird nest, I saw too many ants. So my husband assisted me, and I made a new nest, transferred the newly hatched little ones. The parents took over and they fledged. Thanks to your advice in the Enjoying Bluebirds More. I suggest it lots at my little job. So much nicer to hold something in your hard than have to remember what the computer says. (I don't have an iphone yet.) So thanks so much. Pat Kinser

Posted by Pat Kinser July 6, 2015 at 7:45 AM

thank you so much for sharing your walks. I always learn new things - I never knew those blue flowers were chicory! I would never think your life was austere. To me it seems rich and full. I spend 5 days a week rushing - to the commuter bus, to a major city, through the work day, back home to a smaller city, getting ready for the next day and bed. I make a decent salary and I don't do without, but I sadly want 5 days of my week to rush by so I can enjoy 2 days of running errands, getting ready for the next week and then...just sitting and vegetating. That, to me, is austere. Recently my son told me about a lovely 1 mile trail my city built around a pond through the woods. I've been trying to stop each night and walk the trail - no headphones, cell phone in my pocket - just enjoying the sounds and smells of the woods and smiling at the people I pass. It's a tiny bit of sanity in an insane schedule and I prize it.

Julie, thanks so much for you lovely blog. I'm a little jealous of your bluebirds. We had a trauma here with our backyard box...two dead babies, one dead mama, disappeared daddy. The two babies kept calling and calling so I noticed their distress and took them to Ohio Wildlife Center-they are such a blessing to have close by. I haven't heard how they're doing yet. If they make it they'll try to release them here.
Anyway, I always appreciate your nature walks and adventures.

Posted by Jennifer July 6, 2015 at 5:32 PM

Jennifer (the commenter above), Yes we've had plenty of bluebird drama too. Sparrows bother them, wrens bother them, and raccoons.

Good luck to you with your bluebirds,


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