Don’t Miss March’s Launch of Spring
“If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy
it will in the end not produce food either,” Joseph Wood Krutch.
Too many people miss March’s majesty by staying indoors. After all it’s usually too warm to enjoy cross country skiing or ice fishing and it’s too early to plant the garden, go fishing, or play golf. March is the month of mud, fog, slowly melting grit-encrusted snowbanks, and clammy cold.
At Winding Pathways, we defy normal behavior and spend March days outdoors. It’s the month of great change and nature’s cavalcade is there for any observant person to enjoy.
Just consider the earth and how it’s turning toward our sun. Days lengthen the most around the March 21st Vernal Equinox. This means there is more sunlight each day allowing our yard to soak up more solar energy and spark spring’s revival of life.
March is the month to pull on mud boots and venture outdoors with eyes and ears attuned to the great seasonal change upon us. Here are some things to absorb with great joy:
“Possum come aknockin’ at the door.”
Look Up and see skeins of geese winging across the sky
Migration has started. Look up! Way up. Skeins of geese wing high overhead, perhaps so high they are mere specs. Binoculars bring them closer. And their distant and distinct song is music to winter weary ears. Salute their northward journey with a hearty, “Welcome Back!” Many smaller birds are on the prowl, but it may take a close look to notice them. Within a month juncos disappear shortly after red winged blackbirds make their annual debut. Sparrows begin crafting messy nests as goldfinches swap their drab winter outfits for glorious yellow garb. Barred owls fill the night air with haunting cries of WHO COOKS FOR YOU FOR YOU. Sometimes they are in a black oak almost over our roof and startle us awake with their lusty calls.
Even as winter’s song hangs on, baby squirrels are nestling in tree cavities and rapidly growing on a diet of mom’s rich milk. Squirrels are among nature’s most attentive mothers. In another month or two they encourage their babies to venture outdoors. Cottontails begin mating, buck deer begin growing new antlers, chipmunks are increasingly active, and raccoons and opossums prowl the nocturnal yard seeking dinner. On warm misty nights they gorge on nightcrawlers that have emerged on the lawn’s surface to mate.
We’re always delighted to find stinging nettles springing out of the still cold earth toward the end of March. There’s no better tasting or nutritious cooked green than a short pile of steaming bright green nettles on the dinner plate. It’s the best time of the year to enjoy tender dandelions leaves in salad. We like the non-bitter blanched leaves discovered under a carpet of oaks. By summer, these leaves are too tough and bitter to enjoy. But, now, they are delicious and nutritious. We can pluck them because we have a spray-free yard.
Spring’s miracle sound.
Sometimes this miraculous sound happens in March but always by early April. Nature’s most promising song comes at vespers each spring, usually in the calendar interval where Easter can fall – March into April. Spring peepers and chorus frogs herald the season each evening. As Christians worldwide celebrate Easter by saying HE IS RISEN, Chorus frogs and peepers enthusiastically seem to announce SPRING IS COMING!
Go Outside! Don’t miss the great vernal seasonal turn. March isn’t a month to huddle by the television. It’s a month to be outside.
Girls taps a Maple Tree
Nettles are one of the first greens to poke up through the ground.
Young Squirrel in tree.
Sapsucker holes in tree.
Male Goldfinches begin to color up.
Dark clouds over farmland.
Nelda, Teri, and Wahneta constructing the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.
Midwest by West by Southwest, I walked several labyrinths and with the help of several stellar friends re-created the labyrinth in our front yard. With the help of wonderful friends, the five-circuit Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth replaced the seven-circuit Classical labyrinth. The magnolia that was dying came down and a small bur oak took its place. New circuits were measured and established. And, a lovely cross-quarter day dedication ceremony welcomed the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth. All summer, fall and early winter pilgrims walked in groups and individually helping to settle in the labyrinth in our front yard.
We traveled north into Minnesota, East to New York, West to Washington State, and Southwest to Arizona enjoying labyrinths and solitude along with communing with friends and family.
The 1080 Labyrinth blog picture gallery documents the travels, the travails, and the joys.
Two articles from The Gazette have sat on my desk for months waiting. Like Advent. Waiting. And, now, with the Holiday Season wrapping up, Epiphany within, Bowls in full swing, and the New Year upon us, these two articles are more poignant than ever.
“Packing Away the Legos – and a Piece of My Son’s Childhood” by hospice worker, Kerry Egan, for the Washington Post; and “Building Blocks of Launching Good Memories”, by Lori Borgman with the Tribune News Services invite readers to reflect on changes in our lives. These rites of passage of growing up or “small deaths” of changes in our relations and the ultimate loss of life itself, and memories we create can help us as we positively navigate the twists and turns of life.
2017 was a year of saying “Goodbye” which also opened space and opportunity. Our bunny, Simon, had his last stretch out in the winter sun and then died peacefully in our arms. He is buried out back with the other bunnies. We still miss him, yet laugh when we think about how he would move back into the sun as it’s rays moved across the den floor. When we travel now, it’s only the needs of our chickens we consider.
Our daughter and son-in-law’s grand adventures of moving to Alaska for a job and an epic bicycle-fish ride along the West Coast put them geographically farther away, yet they share about intriguing places and Rich connects through his time in Alaska and his fishing stories.
Deconstructing the 1080 Laughing Labyrinth was hard yet joyful! As the prairie plants continued to encroach, maintaining and walking it were increasingly difficult and unrewarding. Finally, I just took it apart. For a long time I sat with, “Now what?” Then, from the ashes arose the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth that friends helped create, dedicate and regularly walk. Opening space and opportunity.
Sometimes we just know when it’s time to formally say, “Goodbye”. A position. A relationship. We move along in life. Sometimes it’s sad. Other times a relief. To grieve is important and yet, we can choose to remember the positive memories that were the bond even as we open space to new possibilities.
Other “Goodbyes” come from literally clearing out space. Digitalizing pictures, respectfully releasing boxes of slides and photos, then making small photo albums. Deleting old computer files. Lo and behold, the hard drive has more space! Reading journals and old letters one last time, then taking them to the fire pit and letting memories float to the ethers. Tenderly touching favorite but no longer read books and giving them away for others to enjoy and love. Lesson plans and manuals from former teaching gigs represent so much time and effort and possibility. Now, they just take up space. So, it’s time to let them go. And the file drawers no longer bulge uncomfortably. Unworn clothes, unused kitchen items, old tools, multiples of anything, find new homes, the list goes on and on.
Suddenly the home is spacious, clean and lighter!
The last task of this year for me is packing away Christmas and browsing the cards people sent us. Building memories to last into the New Year and looking forward to the new. Wondering, where have we been all our lives.
“When the song of angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the brothers (and sisters),
to make music in the heart.” Howard Thurman
Big changes have happened since this summer’s vibrant growth of the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth. Read about the changes on the 1080Labyrinth site.
Carole Teator: Thank you for inviting my story. And thank you for the column on the catalpa tree. I do enjoy them, particularly when they are in bloom.
This is a story of losing a tree. Carole shares that it “… helped me realize how deeply one can mourn the loss of a non-sentient being.”
“I recently came across the attached photo of a cottonwood tree that I once knew and this old friend has been on my mind since. It grew along Austin Road, north of Marion, and I came to know it when visiting friends who live nearby. When I could, I would walk to visit the tree and eventually photographed it in every season. It was huge—perhaps 20 feet in circumference?—and it stood alone, between a field and the road. Nearby is a small woodland, the proximity of which may have made the cottonwood seem even more solitary at the side of the road.
“One day, one of my friends who lived near the tree dropped me off at the Cedar Rapids Airport. A terrible storm blew in, delaying my flight and making me very concerned about my friend and her young son, who I knew would be driving on Highway 13 at the height of the storm. When I was able, I called to check on them. She said they were fine, but that the old cottonwood had blown over in the storm. Shock and sadness washed over me, and I was as surprised by this visceral reaction as much as I was by the news. I mean, it was a tree I only saw every few weeks and I only had known it a few years of its life. But it seemed a connection to the past and a sentinel of beauty and solitude that was now gone. I had connected to this tree more than I had understood, or even understand now. I continue to mourn its passing, but I am so grateful for the photos I took of it that remind me of its beauty and grace.”
Bev Hannon: “Your Sunday article on catalpa trees brought back lots of memories. We had two trees between the sidewalk and street at the house I grew up in, in Manchester, IA. I loved those trees and founds all kinds of way to use the blossoms and beans as a child. I think I even used to climb the trees, ‘though not successfully. I held “tea parties” in the shade under them, serving the early beans in my little tea dishes and of course, decorating my table with the blossoms.
“Unfortunately, the trees are long gone, as well as the house I grew up in. It burned down, and someone set up a double wide trailer facing the other street (corner lot), not West Marion St., so even my old address is gone. 🙁 But the memories live on.
“Thanks for your good words for Catalpas.”
The Ramsey Table
Marion Patterson: While clearing out the attic, recently, I came across “The Ramsey Table”. This was a roughly fashioned coffee-type table my folks made shortly after we were married and brought to us in Iowa. Dad had found an 18″ wide plank from the home we lived in Goffstown, NH. Purportedly, (one of) the oldest in town. The home did pre-date the Revolution and was for sure haunted! One family that lived there was “The Ramseys.” Much to my folks’ bemusement, a friend and I concocted all sorts of adventures surrounding this unknown family. Thus the name of the table.
Mom placed a variety of sentimental objects in the little shadow box cubbies that Dad had made. Many of these I later replaced as their meaning dissolved. Glued-down pennies of significant dates like when we were born, graduated high school and college, got married remained. And, a little memento of “Baby Magaret” a long-lost relative from 1878 Chambersburg, PA, who died in infancy.
Square Nail Holes
It was time to dismantle The Ramsey Table as we have never had a good place to display and use it. I did so reflectively. A further look at the plank revealed some interesting features. It was a decades-old pine tree with three knots across the middle. As a young tree, it grew fairly fast in New England soil in years when sufficient moisture helped it along. Later the rings grew closer together until they were indistinguishable. Revealing less moisture and more competition perhaps as it grew.
Most interesting to us were the widely spaced square nail holes! Their presence and configuration confirmed that this was an old piece of lumber. So, we have kept the plank and are thinking about the best way to honor it and Mom and Dad’s gift of The Ramsey Table.
When I was eight or ten years old Dad helped a friend and me construct a treehouse in a multibranched gray birch tree that grew behind our house in New Jersey. It was mostly platform four or five feet above the ground.
Growing nearby was a tall maple on high ground overlooking Cedar Lake. It was easy to climb trees with horizontal branches perfectly spaced apart. My friend and I carried boards way up in the tree, perhaps 40 feet above the ground, and we made a platform there. We even made a flagpole and hoisted it above the tree’s top.
Grandma Zieger lived close by and saw us high in the tree and alerted Mom and Dad, as a fall from that height would be serious. They were unworried, as they thought we were in the low tree. Only later did they discover the lofty perch and discouraged its use.
In the late 1960s, I found myself in the army as a neophyte infantryman. For a while, I was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington on the south end of Puget Sound in the rainforest, a land of giant trees.
One evening my company was told to gear up and, squad by squad, we climbed aboard helicopters. Soon we took off in the darkness and not long later landed. A lieutenant told us to jump out and make a defensive perimeter. We could expect an attack at dawn. It was a big war game, the blue army vs. the green one.
So, we formed sort of a circle as best we could in the darkness and took turns on guard duty all night. Two of us would be awake for an hour while the rest slept. At the end of an hour, the guard duty guys would wake up the next shift, and so on.
I ended up with the dawn shift and got poked awake around 4:30 in the morning. With a partner, we peer outward searching for danger, but we could see nothing. It’s true that the darkest hour is just before dawn, but as the earth turned toward the sun the land lightened and gradually I could make out the trunks of huge Douglas fir and cedars. Beneath them was a tree so unusual it riveted my eyes. Small and twisted, it had large deciduous type leaves and looked like it belonged in the tropics. I’d never been in the rainforest before and was so fascinated I stood up to get a better look.
Instantly an M-16 spit out a clip’s worth of blanks. In those days blanks had bullets made of compressed paper. Several splattered on my chest and hurt but did no damage. Within seconds and army “referee” approached, put a colorful tag on me and pronounced me dead. I was told to walk back to the LZ (helicopter landing zone).
It was the Pacific Madrone that helped me realize that curiosity about nature can be dangerous.
R and M Patterson: Folks who have visited Indian Creek Nature Center over the decades remember fondly “Old Henry”.
This large silver Maple along Indian Creek just off the Sac and Fox Trail, grew up when the Center was a farm, was flooded regularly, thrived in the dense moist soil and was home to many animals. Its girth beckoned visitors to wrap multiple arms around its massive trunks and cool off in its shade. Kids and adults alike loved Old Henry. Cedar Rapidians returning for the Holidays often made pilgrimages to see Old Henry and reminisce about their adventures there.
So, many mourned when its branches started to fall off, when winds toppled large sections of its trunk and when it finally, keeled over from age. Its limbs lay scattered about and kids still climbed all over them until these rotted away. But, Old Henry’s passing opened up space for new Henrys to grow. Some are good sized. Birds and mammals have returned to nest and rest. Insects and worms still ply the soils.
Perhaps one of the most touching tributes over the years was that each late fall, some kindly soul would leave a garland around Old Henry with a few tidbits for the animals. Even as Old Henry became littler and littler, this anonymous person would trek out to Old Henry and leave love offerings. So, Rich was moved when this week he walked past Old Henry, now a tiny stump, and saw a garland wrapped around the remains and a few tidbits for the animals. A fitting tribute to an old friend. Thank you.