Background Switcher (Hidden)

Faith in a Seed Part 2

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I couldn't believe my eyes in late June when, searching Geepop's grave for the dozenth time, I found a dozen good-looking plants of Sabatia angularis in bud. Where in the Sam hill had they come from? Heaven?

It would be almost another month before they would bloom. But bloom they have.

They're the smaller pink flowers to the left, beneath Bill. He put a bench out there, and it's one of his favorite places to sit and think and talk to his dad.

A mighty nice big bunch at Geepop's feet.

A dozen of them!

You  may be sure that I will keep sowing that dust-fine seed, to try to have Sabatia in bloom every summer out there. It's the least I can do. How I wish I could do the same to remember my dad, but he wanted to be buried in Thornton, Iowa, and that's where he is.

I miss my dad something fierce, and we sure miss GeePop, his music, his humor, his genuine warmth and his wisdom. It is a comfort to have a place to go in the orchard to feel all that coming through.

Bill and I sat for awhile out with Geepop on Sunday evening, present in the moment for once, waiting for a thunderstorm, listening to the thunder, savoring the long-awaited success of my little Sabatia ranch. 

Chet listened to the thunder, too. He didn't much like it. 

We got up and walked a little farther in the orchard, and we found a beautiful male box turtle, very old, but unscarred by cars. Unscarred box turtles only occur well away from roads. It seems like every one I help across a road has some dreadful scar from a car encounter. It's nice to find a traffic naif like this one, especially an old one.

Did you hear that? Was that thunder again?

Yes, Chet Baker. But I am here. You don't need to tremble. 

Sometimes, if you keep trying and you don't give up, you can make magic happen. It surely seems like magic when these amazing, fragrant pink flowers sneak right past you, then suddenly spring into bloom. But it's not. It's work and hope and care and most of all love. 

It's faith in a seed. 

Faith in a Seed

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Longtime readers of this blog will recall that I have a favorite wildflower. Sabatia angularis, Rosepink, or Rose Gentian, or Bitterbloom, or Pure Heaven (my name for its scent).

It's a big blustery showgirl of a wildflower when it's happy, each plant making a great big perfect bouquet of spectacularly fragrant pink five-petaled flowers. 

It blooms every year on my birthday. True. 

It grows on dry roadside banks and meadows in poor soil, companion of Queen Anne's lace and black-eyed Susans.
What is not to love? 

I've had my struggles protecting favorite stands from mowing, and I've seen rosepink come and go, mostly go. I decided I had to try growing it from seed so I could spread its rare and precious joy around. Little did I know what I was getting into. 

I first planted its dust-fine seeds in a long planter in the fall of 2010. They came up the following April in my Garden Pod, and the seedlings looked like this. Essentially invisible. 

By the next spring, the ones that lived all that summer and through the winter on the floor of my Garden Pod looked like this.

Lest you get excited, here is a year-old Sabatia with my fingertip for scale.

In the spring of 2011, I steeled myself and planted the precious surviving seedlings out on Bill Jr.'s grave in our orchard. I carried watering cans out there (more than a quarter mile away) all summer long, trying not to wash the minuscule plants away with the flow. I mulched them lightly with straw and prayed for rain that never came. As far as I know, all but one withered away despite my care. It grew to about three inches and made a tiny miniature bloom in July 2012, and that was that. It wasn't meant to be.

I did not give up. In the fall of 2011, having roped off the plants so they wouldn't get mowed, I gathered a honkin' bunch of seedpods in my favorite roadside patch.

The darn things don't even come ripe and dry enough to split open until November!

 Split pods, dust-fine seeds.

Yes. Those are seeds on my thumbnail.

I decided that something in my soil, water, light regime, or general karma was amiss. I couldn't grow decent Sabatia seedlings. So I'd let Mother Nature do it herself. I'd just sow those dust-fine seeds where I wanted them and see what happened. It'd be two more years before I'd know...Sabatia is a biennial, blooming in its second year of life, spreading seeds, then dying that winter. The seeds sown in the fall would make those tiny rosettes the following spring, and the plants would just sit there, growing roots and getting bigger, until they were ready to burst into bloom in their second summer of life.

 Let's see...that would mean that I wouldn't know if it worked until sometime in the summer of 2014.

In the spring and summer of 2013, I got down on my hands and knees and weeded Geepop's grave, peering intently at the soil for the tiny rosettes of Sabatia. I found nothing. I didn't understand how I could sow thousands of dust-fine seeds on suitable soil in full sun and get nothing. But again, it appeared that it wasn't to be.

I didn't give up. If I had to sow a million seeds there, I would see rosepink raise its beautiful blossoms. I gathered more seed in the fall of 2013.

I planted purple coneflower there, and it flourished and bloomed beautifully. I could only hope that someday there might be an understory of rosepink.

In my next post, come walk out to the orchard with me and see what happened.

Chet Baker and Wally the Kooikerhondje: Trick Time

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


We kept a Dutch Kooikerhondje named Wally for a little over a week while his owners (Oona's family, for those who've been reading this blog since dinosaurs walked the earth) were at the beach. This dog was bred to play in the water and attract ducks so the ducks could be shot. A Kooikerhondje is different in build and coloration from a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, which is a better-known breed. But both were bred to lure in wild ducks by fooling around at the water's edge.  Now, knowing a little bit about wild ducks, I find this little breed purpose fable hard to believe. But that's the story and they're sticking to it. And Boston terriers were bred to sit by their owners in the stands while the owners watched dogfights. Uh-huh. Chet Baker would definitely want to help with the dogfight. He'd be the last person I'd take to a dogfight, a giant pain in the *** at a dogfight. If I were the kind of person who went to dogfights. As if anyone who owned a Boston terrier would be into dogfights. Honestly. You see the problem. It simply can't be.

Wally is one of the most beautiful dogs I've ever seen, with a kind, sweet demeanor and the most luxuriant silky fur imaginable. Note the little black "earrings" of hair adorning his ears. A breed trait. The function of the earrings is...oh, never mind.   Wally is a little timid compared to Chet, and his bag of stupid pet tricks perhaps not stuffed quite so full as Chet Baker's. They get along terrifically well, with only one big snarling bout when Wally tried to horn in on Chet's chicken livers. In order for any dog to get along with Bacon, he must acquiesce dominance entirely. Then things will go just fine. Wally was awesome on our runs, forging out well ahead of me and Chet, but always coming right back when called, and dropping to lie down on the shoulder when a car passed. Ol' Silverchops and I ran that dog's pretty little feet off. We did two 6.8 milers, several 4.8's...he loved it all.


So Phoebe thought she might send Wally home with a new trick for his family to enjoy, and tried to teach him to shake hands. Watch what happens when she settles in for a little training session. Please do not miss the very beginning of the video, when Chet Baker is just finishing an impressive Roll Over in an attempt to gain Phoebe's attention. Gack. I grabbed my phone and made this amateur vid. I did remember to turn the phone on its side this time. But forgot not to cackle into the mic. Sorry. Again.

I'm old enough to remember Jack Benny. If you are, and I bet you are, see if Chet's withering stares at me remind you of anyone...

Nobody puts Baker in a corner!

A Tale of Three Pendants

Sunday, July 20, 2014


This is the story of how aesthetics (here in the form of jewelry) can connect people. I’ve never been a diamond jewelry person. I like stones, but I like a stone that’s been around, that has had millions of years of water running over it. Diamonds mean nothing to me. River stones do. So when Bill came back from a trip to Minneapolis, bringing me a pendant with a tiny perfect silver dragonfly on a river stone, with the most gorgeous twirly suspension system, I was over the moon. I’d never seen a pendant I liked better. I wore it all the time, everywhere.

The first year of the Potholes and Prairie Festival was held in 2003 in Jamestown, North Dakota, and a woman named Ann Hoffert invited me and Bill out to speak and lead field trips. It sounded like a cool event. It turned out to be a dream come true. I remember the weather that year being warm and sunny and windy, and we both got a whole bunch of life birds, including Baird’s sparrow, chestnut-collared longspur, and who knows what all else. We fell in love with the place and the people. Ann and Ernie Hoffert are dear friends now. North Dakota feels like another home to me. June 2014 was the eleventh Potholes festival I worked. You couldn’t have kept me away with barbed wire and firehoses. 

Well, of course, I wore my dragonfly pendant to that 2003 festival, and of course I left it in a drawer where I’d put it for safekeeping in our hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express, and of course somebody took a liking to it and when I got home and missed it and called the hotel it was gone, gone like the moa is gone. Like my favorite ever denim shirt that disappeared from a hotel room in Wausau…like the fine leather lace up boots I forget where I left…the really nice stuff doesn’t end up in Lost and Found. So Bill called the store in Minneapolis and they said they didn’t have any more dragonfly riverstone necklaces, and they didn’t think the jewelers were making them any more, but they were kind enough to give him the name of the people who’d made it. Barbara Samuelson and Russell Strawn Smith, Scattered Light Jewelry, way down in Denton, Texas.

I thought, well, I won’t bother them, but I mourned that necklace for a couple of years and finally one day I thought, well, that’s enough mourning, I’m going to chase down these folks and see if they’ll make me another.

So I crafted a fan letter to Barbara and Russell asking if I could buy a replacement. And Barbara answered back that they weren’t making this pendant any more, but she liked my letter so much that she and her husband would come out of bug jewelry retirement and make one for me. She thought she still had a nice river stone….

And they made me one special, and it was even more beautiful than the first, and I was happy, so happy to have it back. Well, in perusing their offerings online I saw another of their pendants that I liked just as much, and it was a bleeding heart with a silver clapper that swings when it moves against your throat. Oh me. Oh my. I showed it to Bill and wouldn’t you know on Christmas Eve 2006 he just couldn’t wait and he gave it to me in the foyer on our way out the door to church, because he knew I’d love to wear it that night. And oh, I did, and I bawled and bawled at his thoughtfulness. I’m wearing it AND the dragonfly in this picture but they got cropped off d’oh!!


So here it is. I kind of hate to say it but the bleeding heart moved up in my Hall of Pendant Fame and it’s been my go-to for eight years. It’s simply perfect. I can’t tell you how many people have remarked on it. I always make it a point to wear it to talks. Gardeners and naturalists recognize the flower instantly and want to know where I got it. I scribble Scattered Light Jewelry and Barbara and Russell’s names on little scraps of paper and wonder if the pendant's admirers ever follow up. And hope they do. Because just a little scrap of silver can make you feel so happy, if it’s made right and true and perfect as this one is.


Barbara and Russell have been a little hard to find on the Webs of the Intertubes until just recently, when they opened a physical storefront both in Bastrop Texas, and one online. They're on Facebook, too, as Lark-Spirited Giving.  They call their store Lark, and their business is Scattered Light Jewelry, and they have all kinds of lovely things, all of which I want in my house right now. And they have their jewelry for sale there too. They call the plant-inspired pieces Articulated Botanical Pendants. And boy, are they. They have moving parts and they all fit together and work just like they do in nature.


So I’ve quietly lusted after Scattered Light’s Chinese Lantern pendant, knowing it must be something pretty dang wonderful. So imagine my surprise and tearful delight when Bill surprised me again at Christmas with Barbara and Russell’s Chinese Lantern. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is. The silver bracts open up in this swirly spirally naturally overlapping way to reveal this five-pointed star with a butterfly in the middle, and there are these little silver balls at the top…I’m sorry. Words fail me. It’s just incredible. I just can't imagine a human making something that works so perfectly as a flower, and out of sterling silver!! Russell can do that. I want to meet him and Barbara soon.

 The Chinese lantern is lovely and weighty and when you wear it it rattles ever so slightly at your throat, reminding you that it’s there and inviting you to reach up and play with it and I do, I do, all the time. I find it hard to believe a person designed and created this perfectly functioning thing out of silver. How do you do that?? Mine is not to know, only to wonder.


And to wear and enjoy and love.

Like anything I write about here, from goat cheese to geraniums, from bougainvilleas to Boston terriers, I write about things because I love them, not because anybody asked me to. I probably get three press releases a week from people asking me to write about stuff they want to publicize, and I say I’m sorry, this is a personal journal, not ad space. It’s not a book review blog nor is it a product endorsement blog. The only ads on it are for the stuff I create. I wanted you to know about Lark and Scattered Light, though, about Barbara and Russell, because they’re so very good and though I still have never met them face to face I love them. Funny and perfect and wonderful friends. When we do meet we will fall into each other's arms. I'm glad I wrote that fan letter, glad they made me another dragonfly, glad I can wear my friends' art around my neck. It makes me happy to think that some of you might also one day know the feeling of perfect scraps of silver clanking ever so gently against your throat. 

The Best Game Camera Photo Ever

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Corey stayed with us for a glorious week leading up to Phoebe's birthday. Wherever he goes, nature follows. Corey's mom Diane told us that, and it's true, it's true. And our streak of amazing nature karma, which includes flying squirrels and box turtles and gray foxes, continued unbroken. Aided and abetted by Corey's magical presence, his way of noticing everything. 

He brought his Bushnell game camera, unbidden. I thought that was the coolest idea. Brought his fiddle too, but that's another story...
He and Liam went out to mount the camera. All I can say about this first shot is that Liam comes by his impishness honestly. It's 4:01 pm.

They all go out in the Honda a few minutes later. 

Dad comes home in the Bird Watcher's Digest van at 7:23 pm.

At 11:06 pm, the gray fox we've been seeing shows up. You can tell it's a gray fox and not a red by the black tail tip. All color phases of red fox have a white tail tip.

It crosses the driveway.

Not much happens until 3:41 AM, when a raccoon patrols for tadpoles in the driveway puddles. 

And then there's a long quiet spell until I come by, headed out for a late morning run, at 10:29 AM on July 8. I didn't even know they'd put the game cam out, but I saw it as I trotted by and thought I'd wave.  I think this photo is funny enough to swallow my pride-gullllp!!-- and post it anyhoo.

Chet Baker is usually chasing bunnehs in the yard (up driveway to left in photo) when we start our run, and July 8 was no exception. He straggles along 12 seconds later. It is hard to catch Bacon on a game cam, but we succeeded. 


So I get back from my run at about 12:45 pm, and Phoebe meets me at the door with the hugest grin on her face. WAIT 'til you see what we caught on the game cam!!! she squeals. And I'm thinking, 
"Probably me, looking like a goober." True. But...

She opens the laptop and runs me through all the photos I've just posted. And then there's this one.
Taken at 11:42 AM, July 8, 2014, in our driveway. IN OUR DRIVEWAY!!!!! In MIDMORNING!!! 

Well, after a moment of stunned silence when I was just gaping like a goldfish, there followed about five straight minutes of high-pitched squealing, jumping around like Daffy Duck on speed, and incredulous, hysterical laughter. 

Let's have a closer look.

OMG OMG OMG OMG CatGods walk amongst us!!

Slowly, it turns out, because that cat triggered the camera three times in a row.

I just cannot get over the ornate inner leg barring, the spots on flanks and hams, the natty black and snow-white ear bars, the black-tipped tail with white trim. The soft, soft paws. It makes me smile to think that while we've got zero tolerance for feral housecats on this sanctuary, I would serve up wild turkey poults on a silver platter to this great slab-sided native cat without even thinking twice. 

So I wanted to know how tall this animal might be. See that orange leaf just to its left? I went out and measured the leaf. Then blew the photo up and counted how many leaf-lengths the bobcat was from ground to shoulder. It worked out to 21.5" at the shoulder. Right in the median range for bobcat. And quite a bit taller than Chet Baker, as you'll notice. Let's hope they never run into each other in the driveway. I had not thought of bobcats as so...diurnal. But they're also about ten times sharper than we are, so they'll just melt into the woods when they hear us. Not worried in the least about an altercation. That beautiful cat would be GONE at the first footfall.

This is the last photo.

I believe it to be an adult female bobcat, because I think you'd be able to see its manparts at this angle if it were a boycat.

Not even an hour later, Corey and Phoebe walk out to see what the camera caught. Little do they know here...

The whole thing is so beautiful and perfect I just can't even believe it. I still can't believe it. Way to make my day, week, month, year, Corey!! 

I've always known they were here. I photograph their sign. In fact, I'd taken this perfect track shot on nearby Dean's Fork just a few days earlier. If you click on the photo you can see the grain of its pawskin. It's 54 mm, or a little over 2" across. You can tell it's a bobcat by the overall roundness of the print, and the lack of claw marks. 

And I shoot their scat every time I find it. This one, with a neat little rodent jaw embedded. Taken at a lair I found high up in some rocks over a creek on our property. There was lots of poo there. This is where the cat had lain and watched the valley below. Generations of bobcats have probably relaxed there, stubby tails twitching.

And this, bobcat scat, very fresh, made up of turkey poult feathers and bones. It's what's for dinner this time of year. Bobcat scat breaks off in squared, short sections. On our gravel road.

Three evenings earlier, on July 5, 2014, Liam, Phoebe, Corey and I were returning from a bike ride, coming down our gravel road. And as we rounded a bend I alone saw a spaniel-sized, jet-black, apparently tailless feline bound across the road and into the woods. After I realized it was not a giant black rabbit (the only thing my poor brain could produce, given that black bobcat wasn't on my radar at the moment), I knew it had to be a rare melanistic bobcat. Someone sent me this game cam photo taken in Vinton County, Ohio, a few years ago. They exist. They walk amongst us. Perhaps the one I spotted will be next on Corey's game cam!!

For me, these are powerful things. Visitations. Signs. Validations. I need them, so I'm taking them as such. I'm choosing to interpret a black bobcat crossing my path as the best of luck. And a red one, walking calmly up the driveway toward our house in late morning, as a gift from above, a tight hug from the Beyond. Bring it on. 

Corey resets the camera, hoping to capture the cat's face on her way back out the driveway.

Reports back to Nature Fairy.

You made my momma's day. Thank you!

[Back to Top]