Thursday, July 23, 2015

Five Mimosas and a Mango 

My favorite tree is the mimosa.  It is one of those Asian transplants that has made its home in the southern U.S. and is considered invasive by purists.  Its wispy, cotton candy pink and white flowers, graceful branches and lovely aroma endear it to children but not so much to adults, because turf grass does not do well under it’s canopy. There is shade, for one thing, and the root system spreads out just beneath the soil. It’s leaves resemble those of the tiny sensitive plants that grow farther north, and you can easily see that no rake has ever been invented that could handle the dried stems and leaflets that fall off it’s branches every autumn.

Like the redbud and the dogwood, it is a relatively small tree. Unlike other trees, it will grace your yard, folding it’s leaves each night as the sun sets, for only about thirty years before it joins it’s eastern ancestors in that great big yard somewhere or other up there beyond our sky.

Perhaps there was some trauma in my past - of seeing these beloved beauties being eliminated forever from our yard; perhaps it's just that those of us who grew up in a single environment are somehow rooted to our native soil and miss it’s unique produce - whatever the reason, every time I go home to Alabama, I stop along the side of the road to collect mimosa seeds if the season is right, and if it is not, to look for a likely seedling for the pot that just happens to be stashed away in my car so that I can carry a little bit of the home I still love with me back into the cold northern reaches of Iowa.

When my best friend surprised us all by dying a few years ago (she had much too much life and energy to die, you understand) I was there. In one of her letters, her mother called me her friend from the cradle, because that’s where my two year old self first saw her, as her mother and my mother - best friends back then - delighted in her tiny self. So I guess now I’m her friend from her cradle to her grave, because all of us - her husband, her friends, her kin - gathered there in Elmwood as her body was interred alongside her parents and her Aunt Sally.

Afterwards I went home to my potted mimosas and found them both dead as well.

This summer I decided I was ready for another mimosa, and asked my cousin Kenneth, with whom I was staying while feeding Cahaba River ticks and gathering pictures, if I could have the contents of a bag of red dirt sitting on a ledge in his yard and dig up one of the random mimosa seedlings left by the now deceased beauty that once blossomed just under the picture window on his second floor. He generously assented.  So I took two old pots lying kronk-sided among the tangled ivy in his side yard, divided the red dirt between them and transferred a tiny seedling growing nearby into one of them, being careful to make sure it was well watered.

Somewhere, maybe in eastern Georgia, when I needed to slam on the brake as traffic came to a halt on the highway, I heard an ominous thunk, as both pots of authentic red Alabama dirt tipped over in the back seat.  When I was able to right them, my little mimosa was nowhere to be seen.  The next day I found it buried in it’s pot, replanted it and made sure it had plenty of water, securing it this time firmly among the various bags in the back seat. (You know - the still clean clothes, the to-be-washed clothes, and the bag with everything you need for the next night in a motel). I took it out of the car to protect it from the searing heat when I parked, setting it under one bush at the Inn at Folkston, under another while paddling the Okefenokee sill on the other side of the swamp. I wished. I hoped. But slowly this fragile little seedling withered away and by that time there were no more mimosas to be found along the sides of the highway heading toward Chicago.  I comforted myself knowing that the mango potted in my Iowa backyard compost was being watched and watered and turned every day and was waiting for me on my front porch. And that that beautiful red soil would still be able to nourish seedlings another year.

Then familiar-looking cotyledons began pushing the soil aside in both pots. Day by day as they emerged, it looked very much as if feathery little leaves were preparing to come out. And they did.  Two seedlings rose from the red soil of one of those old grey plastic pots and one from the other. Both mimosas...

At home I found a third pot with brown Alabama soil from another year and went through the delicate task of wetting it thoroughly, (mixing the mud well) centering the seedlings in the red pots and transferring the extra seedling to the center point of the brown mud, placing them carefully, watering them thoroughly.  By that time two more seedlings were evident, this time in the compost from my Iowa backyard beside the potted mango seedling. Iowa compost shouldn’t have mimosa seeds, you think?  Well, it is my compost, and you do realize that I have been collecting mimosa seeds just about every year for decades so it's not exactly a miracle...

Still, I feel like singing that children’s song - you may remember it -
“God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me…”

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley 

Decades ago I opened A Thousand Acres, realized an affair was on the way, closed the book and took it right back to the library. The Iowa women I've encountered don't behave like that and I was offended. This year, I read further, kept King Lear in mind and became engrossed in just a few chapters.

The King Lear of the novel is a cantankerous, even evil, man who has gathered his thousand acres by profiteering off of others. He is able to work this enormous spread by using two of his daughters and their spouses, all but the Cordelia of the piece, who has escaped the farm and her father's evil by dint of the protection of the sisters who raised her. Cordelia, who has made her own life as a lawyer, is clueless as her father's mind unravels and the children he has subjugated are caught in an impossible web of circumstances as his deteriorating judgment and behavior first embarrass them, then turn the entire community and Cordelia against them.

All this happens during the 80s when farm bankruptcy was an epidemic and CAFO's were getting started. It was fascinating to read a book that is so authentic in it's portrayal of the daily routines of Iowans - the canning (or rather jarring) of beans and preserves, the work ethic, the well water poisoned by chemicals considered essential to farming. Only the baking of bread is missing. I am sure Ginny and Rose baked bread as well as cleaning, canning and pitching in with the heavier farm work when needed.

I set the book aside the first time because it seemed inauthentic. I read to the end this time because of it's authenticity, the realizations Ginny came to about her oldest relationships, the basic goodness and decency that trapped her and made it impossible to extricate herself from the inexorable destruction of not only the farm that had been her home, but the relationships that had surrounded and bolstered her. In the end, her basic decency means that she chooses to remain silent, remain the villain to her Cordelia, believing it was better to allow her to remain ignorant than to shatter the illusions, destroy what we mistakenly think of as innocence.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Campers 

It is raining hard today. Water streams down my driveway, puddling at it's base. Over in campustown passing cars raise a wall of water that swamps their own windshields. My rain barrels had been getting low and I was glad to have to pick my way carefully along the tilting sidewalk pavement in my venerable neighborhood to avoid dousing my socks coming home this evening.

On the bus I had been thinking about the partially used can of Campdry in my basement - wondering if the fellows who live in the picture you see here had used some for their tents. There is a small community here along an inviting woodland path, each dwelling not quite out of sight of the other.

This is where a homeless man was murdered last year. A resident tells me another was stabbed last week. The police have a shoe print, he said, and some blood.

My guide moved here last February. February, for those of you who have never spent a winter in Iowa, is deadly. Utilities here are not allowed to cut off service in February. You have to wonder how a company can get away with foreclosure in that deadliest of all months; who could make the decision; who could enforce it.

Maybe my partly used can of Campdry would run out before they could weatherproof their tents. It would be no good to them now at any rate, because it's raining. You can't use Campdry in the rain.

I change into dry pants and socks and sit in front of my TV, warm and dry, thankful that my rainbarrels are filling; stroking my cat. I think about men who live in tents, imagine they must be uncomfortable, realize that I can't be completely comfortable either...`


Thursday, May 07, 2009

I saved a life today 

I was in the bowels of my basement this afternoon, sorting through a collection of nails and screws when I noticed a bumblebee crawling on the floor. A dusty gob of detritus-laden spiderweb trailed behind him, impeding his progress. It wasn't hard to entice him to crawl onto a scrap of rag and take him outside, where he readily crawled onto a dandelion bloom. The trailing web stuck to and pulled at his wing. There was a long white hair attached to it somehow that wound around to one of his legs, binding it, as well.

He was still hanging to the blossom when I returned with a pair of scissors, pulled on the hair and cut him free.

By the time the camera arrived he had dropped off the dandelion and was drinking from that other beautiful and equally reviled little spring beauty called Creeping Charlie. As I fiddled with the settings, he crawled from one blossom to another, began to buzz, and flew off, leaving me with this oneric image.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The American Toad - Bufo americanus 

Last Thursday Reiman Gardens opened it's Dinosaur exhibit. While taking pictures I heard the trilling of Bufo americanus. It's a beautiful song. In my neighborhood I am lucky to hear one or two. Here it was a chorus.

Click on the picture and you'll see the full image. Note the pouch under his chin. The little guy is singing his heart out.

You can find a close up of this elegant black fellow on the Clemson University site:


The Joy of Spring 

One of the joys of spring in Iowa is the sight of our native milkweed seeds emerging from the pod that protected them
all winter.

The wind will catch these shining silken threads soon and lift them up into the sky where they will carry their seeds away, coming to rest, hopefully,
in a welcoming place,
nourished by a gardener who cherishes
the old fashioned lavender blooms
and the monarchs who will
feed and breed beneath them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Deer Throughfare 

This deer trail follows the human one used by scavengers of the original Ames dump. Fanciers of old bottles with a certain patina rendered by age, earth, and weather gather over there to hunt. It is said a homeless man was murdered nearby.

I wonder if crows gathered to cacophanize him, these deer stepping carefully around those stilled limbs?

Snow Day Companions 

This looks like a companionable threesome - a man, his dog, and a squirrel - or is this a rabbit? - walking side by side down the sidewalk until you happen to notice the squirrel/rabbit stepping in the man's tracks (or is it the man stepping on the squirrel/rabbit's tracks?). Even with Obama in office, I guess we'll have to wait awhile to see those lions and lambs lying down together...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mystery in Crow City 

These crows were making quite a racket in those trees. Since they are scavengers, I looked for an injured animal, but when I got too close for comfort they flew. The mob of crows, surprisingly, included a large greyish white bird. I expected it to be a hawk, but it may well have been an owl.

So what kind of a relationship was this? Were they mobbing a predator, following a hunter whose leavings might sustain them as well?

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