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April's Gifts

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The greenhouse has once again become a place I resort to for comfort. Every plant you see here got the crap frozen out of it on January 31 when the gas well on our land froze solid. And each one came back. It's amazing!

Speaking of gifts, look at Creole Lady!! She froze solid on January 31 (read it and weep here) but look at her now!! I'm told all hibiscus need a severe cutback from time to time....well, maybe. I can tell you neither of us needed a greenhouse freeze at the end of January.

But then again...maybe I had to lose all my beautiful plants, live without them for a few weeks, to make room in my heart to say yes to Curtis on February 19. Maybe everything happens for a reason. Or maybe it's all just mindless, undirected randomosity. Some things feel as if they were guided by a higher intelligence. This thing, for one. From what heavenly cloud did you flutter down, Sugarbean?

Creole Lady, when will you flower again? That's OK. You don't have to answer. Just put out leaves and leaves. Feed yourself first.

The Path looks like a hairy stick. But it's alive, and it will be beautiful again by July, mark my words. 

The red-brown powder is dried blood. I'm trying to keep the chipmunks from chewing the leaves off my hibs INSIDE THE GREENHOUSE as fast as they grow out. Yes. That is what's happening INSIDE the greenhouse.

Thai Giant Crown of Thorns going nuts! Nothing eats a COT. They have nasty milky bitter  Euphorbia sap. I wish more of my plants had that.

Teeny Kenyan Crown of Thorns trying to keep up! I love growing these two extremes of the same species. Oh what humans can do to a plant, a dog, a chicken, a horse.

My friend Alan told me to dig up my big lemon verbena and put it in the basement for the winter. Well, that worked! It's delighted to be welcomed into the greenhouse and smells divine. 
Runner's tea a-coming!

My seedling impala lilies, or Adeniums, who never batted an eye at the freeze.  I can't wait to see what color their flowers will be, when they get old enough. It could take years upon years. That's most of the fun.

See the little score marks on the caudex of this one, below? Chipmunk. Climbed up to the top shelf and chewed these helpless little Adenium seedlings.

Erodium reichardii, a little alpine geranium, also weathered the freeze without losing a leaf. (The chipmunks chewed one side off it, but it grew back).

My gardenia sulked a bit after the freeze, but she is going to blow me away when she finally bursts into bloom. Every stem has a fat emerald Christmas bulb at the end.

I counted and there are 24 buds ready to pop on this plant. I keep feeding it, hoping it'll grow some more leaves on those spindly stems. But when it blooms I'll forget all about its looks. This is the plant I got for $10 on clearance last summer. It survived the freeze pretty well.

I was sure my Fuchsia "Gartenmeister Bonstedt" was a goner. But up from the root it comes!

As does this incredible hybrid balcony Pelargonium. Already has a flower bud forming!
It just takes time, faith, and care. That's all. 
It hasn't even been two months, and here they all come roaring back!

 A tidy shelf of color. So grateful to have my Vancouver Centennial still with me, and a new dwarf pomegranate seedling in bloom for the first time.


Against all expectations, my pink fuchsia Trandshen Bonstedts all came back from the root. This is one I was harboring in my house, my "plant ark." 

And then there's Happy Thought. I've missed you so. Remember my gigantic Happy Thought from last winter?? My pride and joy?? It was almost six feet across.

Well, this cutting that rooted and is blooming for the first time is all that's left of it, and I'm so, so happy I have it. I have to keep it on a pedestal inside the greenhouse or the chipmunks, hungry for anything green, will destroy it. Life is harder than it ought to be sometimes.

 Yesterday the chipmunk jumped onto the plant on its pedestal and clipped off some leaves, just to keep me from relaxing and enjoying my plants. Havahart will be set tomorrow. I've caught one and I'll catch this one, too.  Peanuts and peanut butter will get him.

It seems that death and destruction is always waiting when you try to grow things. There's always something trying to get at the things you love, whether it's coons and snakes after your bluebirds or deer chewing down any little tree you try to plant.  Or #$#$%$# chipmunks breaking into your greenhouse, climbing the baker's racks, and annihilating your precious plants. It's always something.  Despite it all, the plants persist, and so do we.

Another lovely thing that keeps me going: nesting bluebirds. They're building, laying, incubating, singing and tussling everywhere. This pair cannot decide which of three different boxes they want. They have spent so much time poking around. Now another pair has shown up to contest them. They could be incubating by now, but they dither instead.

 I've already got baby Carolina wrens piping in the copper bucket under my front eave! Must be a record, such an early hatch! They're trying to beat the rat snakes. If they can pull off a brood before the snakes stir, they're way ahead.
 There are now five eggs in this Carolina wren nest, placed somewhat atypically in a shallow, small slot box along the driveway. They are such clever artisans where nest building is concerned. I love those birds.

I love this little bird, too. He likes to bake his bacon on the porch and on the lawn.

It feels so good to look out the kitchen window and see a dog on the stoop. Even if it has no front legs. Papaw still gets around pretty good wifout his legs.

Figured out why Curtis smells gently of potting soil most of the time. He has dug hisself a couple little setts where he cools off when his bacon is overheated.

There's no sense getting exercised about how dirty he is. As soon as it dries, it just falls off him like rain. I try to make sure that happens outside. On this particular morning, he had an al fresco breakfast because he was raining a fine sprinkling of potting soil. If you click on this photo you can see the fallout.

Just a few things that make me happy, in a roller-coaster spring of wild oscillations in the weather and my heart.

What Keeps Me Going

Friday, April 5, 2019


February 26 I last came here, to talk about Curtis Loew, new light in my life. Curtis was all I felt like writing about, because everything else was so horribly grim. We'd been living in a whirlpool since Bill's diagnosis with stage IV pancreatic cancer on December 16. And the weeks between my last post and now are none that I want to revisit, save for the almost unbearably sweet time spent with family and friends, sharing love and music in our last days together.

My daughter humbled me last night, as my kids seem to do with increasing frequency, by posting on her blog about what it's like to be on the other side, without her dad. Her post is here  and it is a doozy. I've known since she was in middle school that she was a natural writer, and the surest evidence are that post, and the messages I got from her this morning. Because LaGomera is five hours ahead of Ohio, I get a little flurry of messages from her just as I'm waking up around 5 AM, which is one reason to be happy about waking up so darned early.

"I sat down intending to write something entirely different and that's what came out. I just have ideas pop into my head all day and I turn them over and polish them into single sentences and then if I'm lucky they come together."

Mmm-hmm. I know the feeling. 

"I feel so much better having written about Daddy. I didn't realize how much it was weighing on me that I never really said anything final about his passing."

If I were a cross-country coach, reading these messages would be the equivalent of watching a lean, gracile girl lope by, bouncing off the balls of her feet, eating up ground with every stride. I'm looking at an athlete. She not only wants to write; she needs to write, and that means she will write, for the rest of her life. And here's to more of that.

All blocked up here, with grief and the incredulity of Bill's leaving us so deathly fast and unequivocally. I keep trying to start a post and failing. After writing and illustrating Saving Jemima in a single year, failing at writing doesn't sit too well with me.  None of this sits well with me. But you  have to start somewhere, so I figured I'd start by telling you what gets me through each day.

The gifts that poured into our GoFundMe campaign, to help with all the expenses associated with our ordeal. I have been lying awake thinking about how I'm going to get all those thank-you notes written. Bill is birdwatching's Princess Di. The magnitude of the outpouring for him is overwhelming, and I have to learn to be comfortable with being overwhelmed. There are things I have to do right now, meeting book deadlines, taking care of Bill's accounts, and that's what I'm doing. Please know that we are so very grateful. Just to be able to pay medical and estate planning bills and to get Phoebe here when she needs to be here has been such a blessing. Thank you. You have made life so much easier, when it has been so hard. I'm gonna try to get to those thank-you notes. It could take awhile.

The incredible tributes that pour in for Bill. Here's a brick at the new visitor center at the John James Audubon Center for Art and Conservation in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. Their sentiment is perfect.

Knowing our girl is safe on her beautiful island, seeing things like this every day,

makes me whole. And knowing she's got sweet, strong arms to hold her comforts me, too.  Go Oscar. You do your thing. And go Phoebe. Keep spreading your joy on your beloved hunk of basalt out in the Atlantic.

 Liam's been home the last two consecutive weekends. He said goodbye to his dad on the afternoon of March 24. We had no way of knowing Bill would leave us on the night of the 25th, but that's OK. It rolled out as it should, went down the right way. They got to say their goodbyes, as did Phoebe and Oscar, back on March 19. 

 I drove over to Morgantown to pick up Liam and cousin/best friend Gus on March 29, for his dad's beautiful interment ceremony for the family in our meadow. More, maybe, on that later. Or not. Too fresh. But it was amazing, and maybe I'll be able to write about it in time. I feel like I owe it to Phoebe and to the countless people who would have loved to be there in our meadow that morning to share that ritual, that gorgeous, heartbreaking sacred hour.

Curtis was there to catch Liam both times he came home.  Oddly enough, the cur is showing up in Liam's art now.

 Empathy: a Curtis Loew specialty.

It makes me happy to know that there was someone I could bring into this equation who would make it so much sweeter and better for everyone. This dog truly seems like a gift from God or Heaven or the Universe or whatever higher power you pick.

The first bluebird egg in our driveway box, April 3, 2019. Still warm when I found it. I was so sad and sick when I took this photo I hardly felt anything, but I'm glad I shot it anyway. I had come down with a wicked respiratory infection just as the last of my funerary duties was discharged Saturday, and it's still got me. Look at the deer hair in that nest. This gal used deer hair last year, too. Good plan to insulate well if you're going to be laying your eggs the first week of April, my girl. Crazy. It could still snow, you know.

I spent some time repurposing week-old funeral flowers into new, smaller bouquets, my faithful pal by my side. 
I believe in bluebirds, flowers, and dogs. 
Curtis will walk up to you and press his forehead into your chest and stand there, tail wagging, for as long as you want to love on him. It's one of the most endearing things he does, and he does a lot of endearing things.
photo by Liam Thompson

I'll leave you with a little video of Curtis, doing what he does best, which is healing hearts. Honestly, I think if it weren't for his wonderful friends at WVU, Liam would be home every durn weekend, soaking up this good dog stuff. In the video, Liam makes a reference to Curtis' shoulder hurting--he wrenched his left shoulder while hunting in the woods on March 24, and it's only just gotten better. Now he's running like the wind again! Enjoy this little gift, all you cur-lovers. xox jz
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