I Forgot What I Planted

The Tale of an Inattentive Gardener

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Spring has finally arrived in our part of the country. Birds wake us up before our alarms, and the sun refuses to go to bed like an insolent toddler.

Last week I noticed the flower bed just outside of our kitchen window is thrusting up all sorts of greenery into the world. For the life of me, I cannot remember what that garden might birth. However, I vaguely recall some sort of hardware store sale wherein several bags of bulbs were purchased and wedged haphazardly throughout those beds. Probably not planted during the right time of year, nor in the correct area for the level of sun exposure needed, but oh well.

I am not a gardener per se. My husband has DNA from people that carefully architect gorgeous landscapes and flower gardens AND integrate lettuce and tomatoes from their own soil into Sunday dinners. My family planted fields of potatoes and corn so we could afford school clothes. I just assumed you were assigned whatever flowers God picked for your yard, except for the row of lilies along the clothesline that my father tended.

So when we bought our home five years ago, gardening became an adventure. Some prior owners had maintained fabulous garden beds years ago. And we continue to add random configurations of plants discovered at roadside sales and garden shops. There is also a smattering of remnants from my dear friend Loris, as she parts out her own plants and shares them in her crusade to restore our yards to native landscapes.

So there is no algorithm. No plan. No software we consult to map out our yard maintenance plans for the spring. And I really enjoy it.

A few years into our marriage, when I realized how fun it is to watch brilliant colors pop up from the dirt, my husband designed a beautiful butterfly garden for me. The best part of the garden is the path weaving through it. That same summer, a handsome old brick building was being torn down on the river to make room for condos. On an evening walk, we jumped the fence to gather as many of those bricks as we could. That piece of local history now resides among our flowers.

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It’s a bit of a hodge podge set-up, I admit. But that’s pretty consistent with the rest of our life here, this home we are creating.

Last night I received a text from our neighbor. He really wanted to play guitar, but his baby was staying at the pawn shop for a time. I gladly delivered our guitar to his front porch. I love his front porch…for it is populated by a bicycle, chairs for friends, an ashtray and musical instruments. He was so grateful to be able to play. I was equally – and selfishly – grateful to fall asleep to his strumming.

All that to say, the arrival of spring, new growth and live music last night washed over me, providing a sense of peace and joy. I’ll keep you posted on what flowers arrive in our beds, and which tunes stream from the neighboring front porch.

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Crossing Tomorrow River

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Trips unplanned. Guided only by random Google searches, billboards and the GPS.

At 6:30 AM on a winter Friday morning, we headed north, driving over the Tomorrow River with cups of coffee in hand and the sunrise burning over the horizon of snow.

My husband had business in Washburn and we were along for the ride. Our intention was to enjoy Washburn and then visit our old favorite, Cornucopia. Of course, the day assumed its own unpredicted agenda, as our days often do when viewing the world through a windshield.

Our love affair with Cornucopia, Wisconsin started in 2011. We were, once again, headed north with great anticipation of seeing John Prine perform at Big Top Chautauqua. I was over halfway through my pregnancy and although I am generally up for adventure, I was a little nervous to learn that my husband planned to inject spontaneity into the weekend by finding a place to sleep AFTER the concert. I grabbed the local guide I had ordered online weeks prior, and started calling every place on the list. Places were literally filling up as I called…”Well, I have a couple looking at our last cabin now….oh, looks like they’re going to take it. Sorry.”

I think I found the very last spot between Bayfield and Canada in the book. Even the name “Cornucopia” sounded exotic. A cross between Swiss Family Robinson and Tuck Everlasting. It proved to be just that. We spent that weekend in a little cabin just a short walk from the beach, dining on crazy delicacies from historic Ehlers General Store. European breads, organic cheeses, greeting cards, ammunition and chewing tobacco…all displayed in gorgeous cases on the worn hardwood floors. But…that was another adventure; a story for another time.

This adventure took us no farther than Washburn, as luck would have it. During my husband’s meeting, Max and I soaked in the beautiful books, high ceilings and golden radiators surrounding us at the 100 year old Washburn Public Library.

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This rich experience was followed by lunch at our favorite spot – Coco Cafe. Nothing rivals their sheets of crunchy lavosh or pastries. But the real beauty is in the people watching. Small tribes of hippies wandered in and out as we dined. Not the toothless, Key West type either. The Patagonia-wearing folks with iPads and hiking boots that cost more than a fully restored VW microbus. (Note my envy.)

Anyway, with full bellies and our child starting to wing utensils in every direction, our visit expired and we headed out. Every trip I take needs a series of small adventures and one major expedition. Small adventures, such as the library, also include antique stores, used book shops, parks, rummage sales, beaches and hole-in-the-wall taverns. The grand exhibition is always a wild card.

On this trip, we watched snowmobiles zipping around us on either side of the highway, both my husband and two year old enamored with the roaring engines and sexy speed of these machines. I voiced my disinterest for this “sport,” noting that if I am going to enjoy a beautiful winter day, I have to be able to hear it. Crunchy snow. Wind through the pines. Birds. Melting icicles.

What experience would afford us that opportunity? Clearly, a sleigh ride! A quick search revealed an affordable ride just south of us, in Brantwood.

Nothing could have prepared us for the beauty of Palmquist Farm. Max’s eyes grew wide as we snuggled together in the sleigh covered with hay and blankies. The large horses marched forward in the fresh snow, pulling all of us easily through the winding trails.

What makes or breaks any experience for me, however, is the people. At the end of our ride, we sat in a gorgeous building next to a large fireplace and I conducted the Clark inquisition* on the owner, Jim Palmquist. *The Clark inquisition is the tendency my family of ten siblings has to learn everything they can about a person, fueled by insatiable curiosity and rapid-fire questioning. We deem it quite appropriate and a means to keep one another’s stories alive. My husband, and other private folks, view it to be an assault on someone’s privacy.

Jim, a fourth generation Finnish farmer, was all too happy to share his story. In years past, their farm employed people from the surrounding countryside of Brantwood. And when there wasn’t enough work, the local men came by anyway. The farm provided them community and kinship. Jim remembers being a young boy and observing these conversations, many of them in Finnish.

I like Jim. I like his several hundred acre farm. And I cannot wait to return for a long visit. To stay in one of the gorgeous cabins on the property, enjoying the sauna, the hearty breakfast, the ice skating rink and the woods, in all of their glory and deafening silence.

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We Had a Happening

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Last night, I couldn’t help but thinking I have the life I’d always dreamed of. To be clear, the elements of this dream life do not include many of the things you might imagine.

We have stumbled into a life more organic. Used cars. Backyard chickens. Root cellars. Rummage sales. And plenty of good people. And you can say what you will about living an intentional life and realizing your dreams, most of which I would agree with.

But then there’s dumb luck. Happenstance. Coincidence. Serendipity. And a word I’d like to think I created (but probably didn’t)…randomivity. As I write this, I am struck by how fun those words are to SAY, let alone delight in their meaning.

Last night was a culmination of so many relationships developed over time and seasons of life… A very talented Milwaukee folk singer, Lil Rev, accompanied by his wife and five year old daughter, visited for a house concert. Rev brought, and played, a veritable buffet of instruments….guitars, ukuleles, harmonicas, shakers and a MOUNTAIN DULCIMER!

Rev plays old songs, Yiddish tunes, spirituals as well as his own material. He engages his audience – regardless of age or talent. So at 7:30 PM, when faced with a circus of 10 kids who wanted to move their little bodies and make Rev their audience, he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse and became the pied piper.

Rev’s harmonica became a train whistle, and he stood with his guitar to entrance the room with playful melodies and animated gesticulations.

That was the moment. That was the moment wherein I realized I was living a fantasy life. As I looked around our 110 year old living room, I contentedly absorbed all of the love. Childhood friends. Family. Coworkers. Neighbors. Children and babies – little ones that arrived in recent years after much prayer and excitement, including our own son.

And you know what? No one was looking at their smartphone or tablet. The only reason these devises were brought out intermittently throughout the evening was to capture a piece of the magic on film.

A house concert is intimate, if nothing else. You are squashed next to people on the couch that you’ve never met. You thank the stranger next to you for bringing the crisp white wine or the seasoned pecans. The world gets a little smaller, and a little happier. After the concert, our friend Paul even reflected on feeling younger after the whole experience.

Earlier that day, in preparing for the concert, and talking with our friend Laura, she said, “You’re having what we used to call in the 60’s a ‘happening’.”

So fun. A throwback event to community.  Interconnectedness. Music. Joy and laughter. Engaging children instead of shoving them in front of a TV in another room.

Let it be known that this music – of instruments and friendship – will always play on the adventurecraft. As will serendipity…

Spend Time with People You Don’t Understand

imageSantorini, Greece, in 2010 ~ the day after celebrating at the Saint Matrona’s Day festival in the local village of Finikia

In cataloging adventurecraft life, I had no expectation of relaying my evaluation of how life should be lived. Of giving directives. Of being preachy.

Turns out, though, similar messages collide simultaneously from different corners in my life and provide solid wisdom, direction or common sense, and I have to think there’s some validity to that. And since writing is the palette on which I digest this information (hey, gotta love a mixed metaphor…), this venue is left to catch my rambling thoughts today like a velcro dartboard.

There are a few really smart people that I like to follow, read and learn from. I always say that, if I were infinitely wealthy, I’d be constantly pursuing a different degree. Which is heinous, since the world has a whole lot of classroom to offer with no admission fee. (And I am just juvenile enough to giggle when using the word heinous.)

Over the past week, both Malcom Gladwell (What the Dog Saw) and Bob Goff (Love Is…) whispered the same thing in my ear….we need to, and desire to, see the world from a perspective other than our own.

Nothing frustrates me more than someone who reads something of mine or anyone else’s and says, angrily, ‘I don’t buy it.’ Why are they angry? Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head—even if in the end you conclude that someone else’s head is not a place you’d really like to be. – Malcolm Gladwell, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

What if we were just with people? And we don’t have to be with them with agenda. Start being with the people that you don’t understand. That are in circumstances that you don’t understand. And not to teach them. Go as a student. – Bob Goff

I’ve always enjoyed being exposed to the mindset and thought processes of other people. This curiosity was the reason I traveled and studied internationally. It was also the reason I used the Socratic method as a middle school teacher. In high school, I wrote a paper about May Sarton and solitude. I had never heard of her and I had to drive to the UW-Madison campus to study her writings.

In college, I marched with the African American student group on MLK Day. I traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, to meet Dr. John Perkins and learn about reconciliation in communities with an infrastructure burdened by racial tension. I walked around Europe for a few months. To this day, I try to learn how to say hello, thank you and goodbye in everyone’s language. One summer, I went to work on a ranch in Colorado.

And then a friend asked me what the stigmata was, so I went to grad school to study the Bible and get answers to questions like that. In undergrad and grad school, I had access to brilliant minds such as Dr. Jim Bohn, Dr. Phillip Naylor and Dr. Julius Wong Loi Sing, who had insatiable appetites for knowledge and never accepted anything at face value. They all taught me about the word “epistemology,” which was about as exciting as finding a million dollars.

After grad school, I ran for local office with limited knowledge of TIF districts and referedums. Late one night, while campaigning, I sat in the kitchen of a Hmong family for about four hours and listened to a former military leader (via an interpreter) explain the history of the Hmong people and their role in the Vietnam War. I lost the election, but after a few experiences like that, who cares?

Contrary to what one would assume, I didn’t enter into these experiences with an agenda. I was too naive. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, and I probably couldn’t capture why I pursued those opportunities. I was just curious.

So when really smart guys like Malcolm Gladwell and Bob Goff recommend injecting yourself into the unknown, I tend to listen. They are humble guys, passionate about their beliefs without insisting that their philosophy and approaches to life are the only way to go.

Though I am not a big goal-setter, 2015 is going to be the year for investing in the unknown. I don’t want to go into my 40s in a few years with the same worldview or arsenal of experiences that I have now.

How about you? When have you intentionally put yourself in unfamiliar circumstances or spent time with someone quite different from yourself?

Bartering with Burden

This post transpired after a conversation with my friend Jess a few weeks ago, wherein we agreed to swap one of her FABULOUS Slice pies for some of the meat from the deer my husband and I harvested during hunting season.

We went on to lament that bartering isn’t a more viable option in our economy and communities. However, I am encouraged by the fact that there is a reality show about dickering. In addition, in the small, up north town where my husband and I own 40 acres, the exchange of goods and services is common. People are so relationship-focused that it just makes sense.

With that bartering conversation brewing in the back of my mind as a blog post, it occurred to me that there is one institution in which bartering is the ONLY currency – relationships. Now, before you chalk this up to a cheesy Hallmark post, hear me out.

You can’t offer someone $20 to spend time with you. (Okay, I hear those snickers. Get your mind out of the gutter, as my father would say. Pay attention.) The only offerings we have for one another are time and love…showing up, listening, laughing, engaging. We exchange pictures, recipes, child care, hospitality, jokes, and the list continues. Sometimes the exchange is seemingly unequal, but it all shakes out in the end like a 30-year home loan.

Last week it became very evident that there are several denominations of currency in the relational economy – to include pain, stress, confusion, depression… and that list continues as well.

Upon completing our family photo session on Monday, thanks to a gift from our very talented photographer friend Heidi, I looked at my cell phone. I typically receive one or two texts an evening and maybe 10 emails, most of them from commercial entities. But that night I had several texts. From different people. All struggling.

We had been celebrating our son’s second birthday and smiling into the camera; meanwhile, across the nation, my friends were in pain. Deep depression. Financial pressure. A dying parent. Marital tension. Job frustrations.

My husband warned me not to internalize all of this pain. Ha. Funny. I thought. But I don’t see ‘internalize’ as a four-letter word. My friends’ pain went right to my guts, where it fueled the fire for sending back love, prayers and healing thoughts to them.

Being on the receiving end of burdens is not as horrific as the sharer of those woes might think. They apologize profusely. I  am so sorry. I know you have your own troubles. I know you are busy. I just don’t know who else to talk to. No one gets it. (If you ever call me, don’t waste time saying any of those things.)

Then, the real kicker. Thank you for not judging me. What? Are you kidding me? Do you really have friends that, if you called them about your medical debt or dying relative, would say, “Well, you really brought that on yourself. I have a book you should read; then you can avoid pain altogether and wouldn’t have to bother me with it.” Sheesh. With friends like that, you don’t need enemies. (Credit: My Mom)

And so we barter with burden. And we are better people because of it, alleviating each other’s pain and realizing that we are not alone in our own. We ask people to help us hold on to life when we cannot, so we carry the load together, knowing full well that favor will get returned again…and again.

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.

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This entry is dedicated to my sister Pam, who captured this beauty from the journey on her adventurecraft. As I looked at…meditated on….this photograph and the manifestation of love in nature, Thoreau quotes flooded my mind. I’ll end with a reflection of his wisdom…

“My profession is always to be on the alert to find God in Nature, to know his lurking-places, to attend all the oratorios, the operas, of nature.”  -HDT

“There is no such thing as pure objective observation. Your observation, to be interesting, i.e. to be significant, must be subjective. The sum of what the writer of what ever class has to report is simply some human experience, whether he be poet or philosopher or man of science. The man of most science is the man most alive, whose life is the greatest event.” – HDT

Love: Part One

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Love is a necessary ingredient on the adventurecraft.

I recognize that this is not new information. This is nothing that a Beatles song, a Hallmark card, a Subaru commercial or the Book of Ecclesiastes has not covered.

But I feel it necessary to mention how much I love my husband. In fact, as I rolled over in bed to tell him I was going to write (at 3:30 AM), he snuggled me in to him and said, “sorry you had such a tough day.” (Of course, that was just after he yelled out, “What, am I snoring?” in a deafening bark that only a man who has handled heavy artillery for the US Marine Corps would produce.)

This is the man who knelt down beside me to ask me to marry him, just weeks after a serious double knee surgery, producing a hand-carved teak engagement ring. Knowing I didn’t want a diamond that came into the world at the expense of someone else’s safety and well-being, and never having carved a ring before, he set out to make a perfect, symmetrical piece for me.

This is the man who admitted me to the hospital one week after our son was born, and proceeded to care for our newborn as a single dad for a whole week while I healed from an infection… and then for the entire rest of my maternity leave with feeble attempts at help by his wife who could barely walk.

This is the man who bakes bread, strategically, in the afternoon so the house smells like honey and oatmeal and warmth and goodness just as I enter the house after work.

He is also one tough son of a gun.

I was generally aware of all of this as we drove to Eagle River last Friday night to celebrate our five year wedding anniversary. The temperatures had dipped into the single digits and the largest Big Dipper I’ve ever seen followed us from the sky as we drove north on county highways.

As we came upon an accident, with a car pulled over and a deer lying in the road, we drove slowly and commented on how unfortunate it was. But a mile later, something in my husband’s gut told him to turn around and go back to help.

As we approached the scene from the opposite direction, the deer weakly stood up in the middle of the road and stared, shellshocked. His leg had been shattered and as is often the case with adrenaline in the face of death, “he didn’t know he was dead yet.” (Quoting Tad.)

Cars were backing up in both directions and a large farmer stood in a John Wayne-style face-off with the deer in the road, knife in hand. His attempts to quicken the animal’s demise were unsuccessful. So Tad took his own knife and assisted the man, and the young buck. Max stared out through the window,  into the 8° night air  pointing out the “deeah”. I explained that daddy was helping the deer (and getting a few brutal kicks to the forearms in the process).

As we continued on our drive, all of the reasons I love my husband came sharply into view. That act of bravery and gentleness epitomizes all that he does in this world to care for creation in the face of difficulty.

I don’t believe Max and I could not have gotten any luckier.