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“I don’t know if I can keep it up,” I complained when my Publisher suggested a blog would be good for marketing.  At the time the whole concept of blogging was foreign. He set up the site for me and the “sight” of its pages took me by surprise.  Rich color on a black background—what could be more appealing? My husband’s photographs brightened every entry.  My short posts didn’t have to tell the whole story when accompanied by a picture of the nature I wanted to share. Both illuminated the same scene.
If life had continue on its steadily, but slowing pace, I would have gone on to write of the endless natural phenomenon witnessed daily from my long walks down the driveway or around the prairie.  He would have delighted to download his images on the computer for us at the end of every shoot. His pictures put a sharper focus on something I had been contemplating. We heard God’s gift of nature singing every day.
The blog stopped abruptly in mid June of 2012 when his mental and physical energy waned, forcing us to realize that his days of communing with the natural world were numbered.  The Prairie project that we started together was now thriving on its own with wild flowers gaining abundance every spring and prairie grasses standing tall.  I became preoccupied with his needs; the heart went out of my writing about beauty and promise.

Instead I wrote about our relationship and its everyday changes: a memoir unfolding while it happened.  My words were not the stuff for a blog. No image could capture reality.
Now my prairie partner is gone from this earth and the land he loved so deeply.  I moved to the city to ward off the loneliness of a Michigan winter on snow-covered acres, without him.  I just passed the year mark of his parting and desperately want to go on. 
I am discovering “urban beauty” from the windows of my condo and on walks down city streets.  I inherited his Nikon.  With an eye for beauty but not much skill, I do my best to photograph the ordinary and the unusual.  So let me also resurrect the Blog.  You have been patient; it is my hope you will rejoin me on the journey.  Maybe we will even sing a bit.


 
 
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Butterfly Weed Bloom
(6/4/12) Mondays always feel like new beginnings.  I’m rested, I’m ready for a challenge and I’m motivated.  As the week wears on, my enthusiasm wanes as I play catch up in finishing all the projects and connections that began on Monday.  Saturday is double full.  But Sunday washes away all that angst with its peaceful, worshipful moments.  Yesterday it was too hot to go for our usual Sunday afternoon hike, giving me hours of uninterrupted reading time.    “I will make all things new!” is God’s promise in Christ.  This morning after reading a piece in the NYT by Diane Ackerman, “Are We Living in Sensory Overload or Sensory Poverty?” I sat on my deck with my first cup of tea—looking, listening and feeling the air around me.  I’ll admit, I have been living in poverty.  Usually that first warm drink accompanies while I’m reading the paper.  High interest, diverse subjects and tantalizing political opinion.  It leaves me well informed but poor.
     Today the bird feeder is empty.  So even without the sight of birds to distract my attention, I hear happy birdcalls from far and near.  The air is fresh.  All things are new. In the distance, circles spread on the lake surface where hungry fish rise to capture insects.
     Soon the dog and I are walking along the driveway, our daily survey of the changes from the day before.  His sense of smell dominates; my sight takes first place. And there they are: the first tiny purple blooms on the round ball of milkweed buds.  Could her sister-flower, the butterfly weed be bursting too?  I almost ran to see the most likely plant, the one I’d been watching far down the drive.  And yes, there is the blush of orange ready to delight. Now I am rich!  If I keep looking and listening and smelling, the wealth will keep pouring in.

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Milkweed blooms
 
 
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Every thing is early this year, so we should not have been surprised when the “burners” called and said they were coming TODAY.  I watched the breeze whipping through the trees and bending the dried stalk of wild grasses, and concluded that this definitely was NOT a good day for the burn.  

We had not even put the notices in the neighbor’s mailboxes so they would not panic when they saw the billowing smoke.  Both of us voiced our concerns but no one listened.  The professional burn crew arrived along with some college students, who were conscripted as extra helpers, in case the fire got away from them.  Not a good sign.  Then I noticed a guy with a red jacket who turned out to be the Township fire chief.  He trusted the burners more than I did.  Nagging in my mind was the controlled burn that got away in Colorado and was still burning.


Because of the winds the team did a total back burn.  In other words they went against the wind, because to go with the wind might cause an out-of-control blaze.  The most crucial part was the perimeter—start the fire along all sides of the 8 acres and let it burn to the middle.  The winds were muted on the side near the woods .

The prairie burn was not as spectacular as other years, as generally the flames stayed low to the ground.  But I wanted to take a video so I was right in the middle of the smoke and debris.  At one point a tall dust-devil swirled madly right in front of me, which I captured on my iPhone.  I have not yet learned how to get that video clip on this website so you get just one moving frame. 

Today the air is calm and the vast field is a sea of black ash.  Early spring, high winds and worried residents aside—the job is done.


 
 
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REDEMPTION!
 
 
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Winter Sunrise
On our Rural Route the mailbox is a long way from the house.  One of my daily pleasures has been to walk the quarter-mile at least once a day to pick up the mail and the newspaper.  Long ago I wrote about the meager fare in my mail box—just catalogs, solicitations for donations, amazing credit card offers and advertisements.  Christmas season is a little better or when someone here is sick and gets well wishes.  But one constant, even on postal holidays, has been the daily newspaper tucked in the holder beneath the box.  I’ve been a paper-reader all my adult life.  When we moved to Michigan I missed the morning paper but adjusted to getting the GR Press mid-day out of the distant box.  Now days before I take that walk for the local paper, I have browsed the New York Times and national highlights on Google where I can even get local headlines. 

But times are changing.  The Press announced an end to daily home delivery, now reduced to three days a week so I’ll have to go on-line for local daily news. Will this end the mostly pleasurable, and certainly good for me, jaunt down the drive every day?  The reward of “stuff” waiting for me—was that just an excuse?  Without that reason will I leave my desk?  The daily ritual has its rewards: seeing, hearing, smelling the natural world throughout the seasons.  A casual glance doesn’t do it, you have to become one with the landscape. 

Two days ago I finally got a glimpse of the palliated woodpecker that I have listened to for over a decade.  Today the swan family returned to the lake, foraging on the icy surface.  The tall grasses take on a different hue depending on the time and temperature of day.  Even in winter variation abounds.

So I vow again—neither rain, nor snow nor sleet nor empty mailboxes will keep me from my appointed rounds.  It was never about the stuff.


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Milkweed Pods and tall grasses
 
 
 
 
We’ve had a running feud over an indoor plant. “I’m throwing this plant away if it doesn’t do what Christmas cactuses are supposed to do!”  I protested loudly, pointing out all the other plants that we love just for their greenery.  “Don’t you dare—there is a long history in that plant!”
More than fifteen years ago, a dear friend gave us the huge cactus because she could no longer carry it outdoors in the warm weather, which she knew was good for the plant.  We accepted it graciously and followed her instructions even after moving from Ohio to Michigan.  But one summer it fell apart in the flower bed and I thought it was a goner.  Until my sister, an ultimate green thumb stopped by and rescued it.  She patiently took the living stalks, got them to root indoors and then presented them to me for my 69th birthday.  The plant grew and flourished until the woody stalks resembled those of its forbearer.  But nary a bud appeared.
When you can buy a tiny cactus at Lowe’s for under five bucks that is just covered with blooms it is hard to stay loyal to green foliage that refuses to sprout pink flowers from its elegant stalks.  I suggested something I read--put it in a dark place for a while.  He tried that for a couple of days but it only increased his distain for the bloomless plant. We moved it into the bedroom by a window with morning sun--nothing.  I almost begged the hapless plant to “win just one for the Gipper.” The stakes were high: bloom or be gone.
One morning, my husband bellowed from the bedroom, “Come here!”  I hurried thinking the worst. Instead I witnessed a mini-miracle.  One gorgeous dark pink flower.  After four years of waiting, our Christmas cactus finally did what it was supposed to do.  Just in the nick of time. 
 
 
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We’ve had a running feud over an indoor plant. “I’m throwing this plant away if it doesn’t do what Christmas cactuses are supposed to do!”  I protested loudly, pointing out all the other plants that we love just for their greenery.  “Don’t you dare—there is a long history in that plant!”
More than fifteen years ago, a dear friend gave us the huge cactus because she could no longer carry it outdoors in the warm weather, which she knew was good for the plant.  We accepted it graciously and followed her instructions even after moving from Ohio to Michigan.  But one summer it fell apart in the flower bed and I thought it was a goner.  Until my sister, an ultimate green thumb stopped by and rescued it.  She patiently took the living stalks, got them to root indoors and then presented them to me for my 69th birthday.  The plant grew and flourished until the woody stalks resembled those of its forbearer.  But nary a bud appeared.
When you can buy a tiny cactus at Lowe’s for under five bucks that is just covered with blooms it is hard to stay loyal to green foliage that refuses to sprout pink flowers from its elegant stalks.  I suggested something I read--put it in a dark place for a while.  He tried that for a couple of days but it only increased his distain for the bloomless plant. We moved it into the bedroom by a window with morning sun--nothing.  I almost begged the hapless plant to “win just one for the Gipper.” The stakes were high: bloom or be gone.
One morning, my husband bellowed from the bedroom, “Come here!”  I hurried thinking the worst. Instead I witnessed a mini-miracle.  One gorgeous dark pink flower.  After four years of waiting, our Christmas cactus finally did what it was supposed to do.  Just in the nick of time. 


 
 
Some have said that this was a miserable year.  Certainly misery abounded in historic natural disasters—floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, droughts and hurricanes.  And misery walked alongside hope as Middle East countries revolted against oppressive rule.  Misery erupted in shopping malls, high-speed chases, and killing sprees of deranged gunmen.  We don’t have to look beyond our small circles to experience miseries of lost health, relationships and surety.

But my favorite things in 2011 somehow trump all that misery.  One benefit of blogging is the chance to look back.  “Come what may,” was the phrase I used at the end of 2010.  Now I know all the “what mays” that have come.  I chose to highlight a few of my favorite things:

- seeing the pleasure of a granddaughter as she gave us a made-from-nature, woodpecker ornament for the tree
- enjoying a rare week in the Colorado Mountains with nearly the whole family
- finding a new place to live for one family member
- watching the swan pair nest, raise their young and teach them to fly (their gain, our loss)
- sharing the beauty of wildflowers and tall grasses with eager school kids
- listening to creative word combinations from writers in our extraordinary GR Writer’s Group
- meeting this year’s classes of eager memoir writers
- hearing God’s Good News every Sunday and striving to live it during the week

Here’s to many beautiful “what mays” in the New Year!

 
 
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Big Bluestem
Every last day of every month since August when I wrote my last blog entry, I made a vow on my morning walk to write a “state of the prairie” piece.  It never happened—life got in the way.  But this 31st day of October, Halloween for kids and Reformation Day for some Protestants, I will do just that.  I didn’t have to decorate the house or have goodies ready because here out in the country no one comes down the long drive just for a little piece of candy.  There are more fertile grounds.

However the earth was intensely fertile this year.  After our late burn during the first week in May, the lakeside of the field came back stronger than ever.  The big bluestem and Indian grass, which have mellowed into golden brown, are taller than our heads and their roots reach even farther beneath the surface.  This week a hard frost accented each stem and shoot in the field, bounded by still colorful trees in the distance.  I especially liked the sparkling switch grass, which is sure to amaze me all winter. 

The bright flowers have gone to seed, each in their unique way.  I’m thankful for the milkweed in its many iterations that remain showy all year long.  The fallen leaves in the woods are dry and crunchy, while the monster trees still hold some at their heights.  The abundance of our cultivated garden has been cooked or stored.  We see fewer critters around but they leave their scat on the warm driveway.  Our faithful companions, the swan family, are still with us as they teach the young ones to fly.  We never know when we will hear the last swish of their elegant wings as they leave us for the winter.

The other day, we gave a talk in a series called, “Tending God’s Garden.”  I had to admit to the audienthat mostly God tends us in this prairie garden.  Now, as we face November, the hardest month to love in climates like Michigan we still count on being tended even though death blankets the earth and the promise of resurrection seems like a “pie in the sky” kind of idea.  But new life comes this way—it is part of the plan.  Even the skeletons of plants and the ice on Flat Iron Lake assured us that seedtime and harvest and bluegills will come again!