Dirt And Dandelions!

April showers — and the slow increase of temperatures — have brought May flowers and growing weeds as well as discovering which plants have made it through another winter.  There are the burgundy sprouts of peonies — old-faithful plants that laugh at winter weather.  Day lilies are inches high, the ferns are tightly curled fronds, the trout lilies’ yellow bells are sunshine in the garden, and trilliums are going to bloom very soon.  Hands in the dirt bring good vibes to the psyche!  

May is also Older American’s Month — something engraved in my mental calendar from my 23 years at the Office for the Aging in Schuyler County.  We always celebrated with a splashy dinner-dance and with choosing a Senior Citizen of the Year.  I miss conversations with the people who participated in OFA programs.  There is so much wisdom to be shared by those who have lived well, over many years —- and often so little regard for that wisdom in society.  In some populations, age brings respect and honor.  Not so much in our youth-oriented culture.  Much retail advertising is focused on the young in spite of the fact that more of the money resides with the older buyers.   As soon as one uses a cane or hair turns white, we are seen by younger people — and too often by ourselves — as less than.  Of course, just being old doesn’t necessarily endow one with wisdom; foolishness can abide for a lifetime.   But experience and life-stories are meant to be shared.  One astute friend called retirement, “refirement” — a chance to do new and different things that fill us with joy and to share from our experience.   Turning 70, 80 or 90 is not a timer switch that suddenly turns off one’s capabilities.   We might have to make some adjustments in our heavy lifting or speed of movement, but we can still contribute to life.

 Sunday is Mother’s Day, and for those of us whose mothers are no longer with us, it is a time of wistful remembrance.  There are times I’d like to apologize to my mother for not understanding — and so many questions I wish that I’d asked.  Louis L’Amour* expressed this well:  “You never think of  your parents as much else than parents.  It isn’t until you get older yourself that you begin to realize they had their hopes, dreams, ambitions and secret thoughts.  You sort of take them for granted and sometimes you are startled to know they were in love a time or two…..You never stop to think about what they were really like inside until it is too late.”  Family stories are only carried on if an effort is made to do so, and by the time we pause to realize our need for this, our opportunity for getting those stories may be past.  That’s one reason I create a “Family Quiz” every summer.  It lets the stories live on, keeps our far-flung clan connected — and besides—- it’s fun.   “Who moved twice in one year?”  “Who lost pool balls all over the NYS Thruway?” “Who was so intent on taking a photo that she fell into a pool?”

My mother’s gardens flash before my eyes every spring.  I’ve mentioned that remembering them inspires me to keep going with mine.   Her gardens extended around the foundation of our farm house and then more garden borders framed the outside of the lawns. There aren’t very many plants hardy to Zone 5 that she didn’t have.  She was even able to coax a firethorn (climbing shrub –Zone 6) to flourish there.  I have a photograph of her in overalls, cultivating a large vegetable garden, but by the time I came along, she was mostly cultivating flowers.  After my father died, she worked out her grief in making a new garden where her old veggie garden had been – an area that h ad grown up into wild roses and weeds.  She put in a sunken path then planted flower gardens on both sides.  She landscaped with small trees, blooming shrubs and selected perennials. I wasn’t all that enthusiastic as a kid, about picking green beans or trimming away iris borers, but as I helped, gardening became part of my life-style; the norm for living.

I was the fifth living child for my mother, and came twelve years after the rest.  She may have had other plans for her life at that time, but if so, she went ahead with them and took me with her.  She was born in 1898 and died in 1994, so her years spanned amazing changes in culture.  She grew up with horses and buggies, trollies, a lot of walking, then automobiles and finally air planes. She had a bit of a lead foot on the accelerator and she enjoyed flying.  She handled the necessary changes in technology as gracefully as she accepted late-in-life motherhood.  She never — at least out loud — lamented the “good old days” and she was always interested in what was going on currently.  She behaved like a lady and was known by her family for her terse and pertinent comments regarding life, love and world events.  Her love for family and her strong faith were the framework for her choices in life.  She was a good example — and a little tough to live up to.  

There have been other people who have provided “mothering” and mentoring when I needed it, people I remember fondly.  Mothering is, I think, the alert, compassionate, affectionate regard for someone else’s welfare.  It is the warm hug, the favorite cookies and the soothing assurance that things will be OK.  My sister and sisters-in-law were anywhere from 12 to 20 years older than I, so they endured and helped with my growing years — mostly with grace and tolerance.  My husband’s mother welcomed me from the time we first met, when Kerm invited me home for the weekend.  We shared much good conversation around her kitchen table.  We have lived in various places, and wherever we lived, there were older women who helped and gave counsel.  Everyone needs a mother-figure now and then and perhaps we all should be alert to provide it on occasion.  Dads too!!

Around Mother’s Day is when our grosbeaks and hummingbirds return, and last year we had orioles.  So, I’ll put out some cut oranges for the orioles, and the nectar for the hummingbird feeder.  Of course, we’ll have to bring the feeders at night, for it is also bear-traipsing-through season though I haven’t seen any since that lone wanderer back in March!  

In addition to bird-watching we could be wild-food foraging.  I did more of this during an earlier time in my life when I was both energetic, and enthusiastic about Euell Gibbons.  He lived not far from us in Pennsylvania.   I experimented with several wild foods, some of which were really good— and a few —- well, not quite so good.  It was fun and added some interesting textures and tastes to our experience.  This early in the year, the options are basically greens, but of several kinds.  Violets (both blossoms and leaves) and dandelion greens are excellent sources of calcium, potassium and Vitamin A, as are yellow rocket greens.  A bit later in the season, little, green day lily buds, cooked as one would green beans, are delicious salted and buttered. Violet blossoms make an interesting jam, to be served in tiny portions only.   Pansy petals brighten up a salad.  If you decide to try foraging for wild foods, be SURE you know what plants are what.  It is wise to purchase a good field guide for wild plants — and, if you can find it— Euell Gibbons’** “Stalking the Wild Asparagus”.  Avoid plants that grow along a well-traveled road; they will be covered with pollutants from car exhausts.

For more traditional food, garden-planting days are nearly upon us. Weeds grow overnight, so one mustn’t malinger.  I saw a T-shirt recently: “Surgeon General’s Warning: Gardening can be dirty, addictive and may lead to OWD – Obsessive Weeding Disorder”.   It’s true!  We feel this urgent compulsion to get out there!

As spring moves along, suddenly there is more to do than there are hours in the day.  I recently read a book —- “The Music of Silence” —- and it impressed me mightily with its take on hours in the day.  Its author is a monk, David Stendl-Rast.***  I know that my personality is not such that I’d make a good monk/nun, but his idea for living well our 24-hours is something that, to a certain extent, I can adapt to fit mine.  He speaks of the “seasons of the day”, beginning with Matins — the dawn of the day.   It is true that my personal dawn comes several hours later than actual dawn, but it is my day’s beginning.   David Stendl-Rast then goes through his twenty-four hours —- stopping at specific moments in the day, to be aware, to be at peace, being fully aware and expressing gratitude. Vespers and Compline end the day and provide a time to bring the day to a close and even to embrace our wakefulness.  Observing these quiet spaces keeps me aware and in-the-moment instead of running fast-forward oblivious to time passing.  It is taking moments to notice the life in soil as I weed — the crisp, tender dandelion greens —- and the sun slanting in the window setting off sun spots on the ceiling.  Being grateful and finding joy both change the brain —- in a good way.   And in the “merry month of May” (from Camelot) that shift in perspective seems an excellent spring tonic.

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Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. 

*Louis L’Amour — American writer, poet, novelist who wrote about the American west and also historical fiction.  This quotation is from “How The West Was Won”.  1908-1988.

**Euell Gibbons — American naturalist known for preparing foods from wild plants.  1911-1975.

***– David Stendl-Rast —Born in Vienna, Austria in 1926.  He is a Benedictine monk and committed to interfaith dialog.