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After my weeklong absence from the prairie, a great diversity of new wildflowers waved as I drove down the driveway.  New faces, new colors, smiling and singing.  I’d come from another kind of diversity—almost a thousand people from the four corners of the earth gathered to do the work of the universal church under the banner: “unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”  As I walk today my mind’s ear hears voices speaking English with unique accents or melodious sounds of other languages, sweet as the songs of birds.  Seeing colorful flowers brings back memories of saris and African dress that dotted every gathering this week. 
    I’m happy to be in my home place once more, but so thankful to have been among such amazing people—drawn together in the family of God.  Just like the flowers I walk through, each is different, each precious and a thing of beauty.  But, sadly, the countries from which we have come remain marred by poverty, strip mining, oil-spills, pollution and oppression.  We shared our joys and sorrows freely and vowed to pray as we work together toward a more just and peaceful world. Just hours after many said good-bye we were call to grieve together at the tragic death of one of our own. http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/grand_rapids/Visiting-musician-loved-to-teach

    As always, my prairie walk near Flat Iron Lake offers a time of reflection.  The field crowded with white fleabane and alyssum reminds me of “great multitudes…from every nation, tribe, people and language…wearing white robes,” being led by the shepherd “to springs of living water…where God will wipe away every tear.”  (Revelation 7:9, 17)

 


 
 

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The glorious butterfly weed is popping out all over!  Something about its arrival just makes me smile, as if it is the undeniable sign that summer is here.  This so-called weed comes in various hues of orange, even dramatic persimmon.  We began with a plant or two near the house but within a couple of years the seeds along the driveway came to life.  Now the low bushes dot the prairie, even in areas recently burned.  I like the way they push a rounded end up first—a sure sign that there is more to come. I love seeing shades of orange joining the golden coreopsis, now that the purple lupine have mostly gone to seed and I’m pulling the purple hairy vetch every day.  Butterfly weed is in the milkweed family along with the swamp milkweed.  Their small flowers have the identical shape.

The fact that color thrills me comes as a surprise, because I have the genetic flaw of color blindness. I did not know until I flunked the dot discrimination test in college physical and later in a teaching of science class.  It can be embarrassing being such an outlier, joining only .5% of women with the condition.  At first I found it hard to believe—after all, I named colors correctly, could match thread to fabric and enjoyed bright colors.  Recently my nephew unearthed an old picture of me wearing an outrageously bold green and red plaid coat I made in 4-H, in high school.  For my condition, contrast is good—like the black and white clothing that now beckons me because I can hardly make a mistake.  But it is those shades of green and blue that always mess me up.  And my husband’s brown, black and navy blue socks—forget matching them by color—I go by texture.

I have no idea of what color others see when they say, “look at that orange flower,” but what I see is wonderful. And maybe that is the reason I fell in love with the prairie in June with all manner of brilliant wildflowers nestled against a backdrop of green.  


 
 
Are all writers of memoir, liars?  I know some who became very public liars once their audience contained fact-checkers who exposed their guilt.  Famously, James Frey wrote of horrific drug experiences, many pieces of which never happened—at least to him.  One writer began her book with a scene of her father-in-law throwing her typewriter out on the front lawn because he disapproved of her writing.  Only the last half of that statement, the dull part, was true.
   When I heard these examples during writing workshops, I join the others in condemnation, knowing I would never stoop to such deceit just for the sake of story.  However, after passing the warnings along to my own students, I remind them to “color” their scenes because description and dialog depend on telling things your characters would typically say and the clothes they might have worn or the cake they might have made for, let’s say, your tenth birthday.  But to say that an incident happened when it did not—never!
   I know the line and never thought I’d cross it. Until my own granddaughter, the now college senior who I supposedly taught to read at a young age, blew my cover. She, like her younger cousins, keyed in on her name in All Nature Sings.  I had been very careful to avoid making the story about them but Lindsay found one incident that she questioned: a story about the legend of Chief Wabasis’ treasure.
   The Chief, so the story goes, got a large financial settlement for his tribe from the US government but instead of sharing it, he buried it somewhere near Wabasis Lake.  Several of our neighbors had been told, when they were youngsters, that the treasure just might be buried by our lake, Flat Iron. We passed the treasure story along to our own grandkids after we found Indian artifacts in our back yard.  But I got carried away, stating “when the kids got restless, we’d tell them the story again and send them out with shovels to look for it.  “Never happened!” said Lindsay, flatly.  “If anyone would remember such a thing—it would be me.”
   I could blame this stretch of story on my husband who loves to tell it to strangers and may have even added the shovel part, but that would be too much like that couple in the garden called Eden.  I chose to write it in my book; I knew it was not true.  I’m busted; I’m no better than a common liar who thinks she must stretch the facts for the sake of a good story.  But worst of all, I felt no guilt until my own fact-checker caught me in the lie.

 
 
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While I am wandering around this land surrounding Flat Iron Lake—exuding over swans, snapping turtles and baby robins—many people are suffering.  Folks, who share my sense of place albeit along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, must now watch helplessly as oil washes ashore covering living creatures with brown goo. While I’m picking asparagus, lettuce and strawberries there are people with whom I share a common humanity, who are starving.  Even the act of writing this blog comes into question as I view this link, sent by one of my kids: http://www.starvedforattention.org/take-action.php#blog from Doctors Without Borders.  I feel guilty in such plentitude.  Seeing the strewn crack eggs of turtles along our soft paths is a fitting visual to remind me that beauty as well as life itself is fleeting and can slip away at any time. 


 
 
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They always surprise me.  On our morning walk, my dog Jake and I make the rounds of the wildflowers and garden plants while I gauge the weather for my morning report to Fritz.  In this heat spell, the asparagus grows almost while you watch, so that was my first stop.  In the middle of the patch, there she was, snuggled down into the soft soil looking like a large overturned tin platter.  Still covered with lake mud and green algae, mama snapping turtle looks mean and ugly. She extends her head out of the huge shell, and I see that even her eyes are full of dirt but know full well that she could see well enough to snap off a finger it I get too close.  
     Even though she struggles to deliver, I am curious but have little sympathy--still reeling from the loss of the swan babies that I blame on her kind.  I run for the camera but my husband finds the shovel.  He heaves her 30-40 pounds into the field while I’m suddenly concerned more for her well being than his precious plants.  “She’s old,” I cry.  “Don’t hurt her!”  He knows about life span of snappers (up to 100 years) but also knows her shell will save her as it has for so long. 
      Every year a snapper or two surprises me; often I only see the indentation she makes or the remains of some of the dozens of newly laid eggs that were a tasty snack for a raccoon or skunk.  Several times in the fall I’ve come across broken shells next to a hole in the ground marking the spot of those who survived predators and hatched from months of incubation.  Someday I’m hoping to see a row of little ones making their way out of the hole, shaking off broken shells and instinctively heading back to the place from which they came, Flat Iron Lake.