Life, family, business

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The Fall of Summer

As the leaves turn from green to yellow to red, the fruits ripen, and the chipmunks are busy gathering their winter supplies, my heart saddens, knowing the joyous days of summer’s heat are being cut short.  The blue jays, with their clever calls mimicking the sound of a hovering hawk, fight over the acorns with the squirrels. The yellow jackets appear more intensely, hungry for every fallen apple, and ready to bite every intruder.  The luscious season of tomatoes ripening, juicy goodness only available in the late summer, is almost over.  The bags and bags of them in the entry way, waiting for me to do something.

The first nip of frost blackens my squash and pumpkins leaves, and they ripen quickly, forced into readiness by their natural enzymes.  “Hurry up, everyone!” the frost seems to say, “Your time is almost done”.  The zucchini plants make one final attempt to produce more fruit, and the yellow squash does the same, sending out new blossoms, calling to the bees. The bees are also in a hurry, to bring more nectar back to the hive for their winter syrup of life.

The wild animals grow heavier coats. My chickens grow in their heavy under feathers, getting ready for the cold.  The air in the evenings has a crispness to it, a chill, and the fire warms our hands and feet.  The leaves crunch underfoot.  The flowers are faded, turning to stalks. The seeds blow on the wind, their ingenious parachutes and umbrellas of fuzz setting them adrift in the sky.  Like the pioneers, they set off, not knowing where they will land, but they will try to make a life wherever that is.

The geese and ducks fly overhead.  Going south, who can blame them?  The Monarch butterflies too, migrating back to their warmer climate for survival.  Their instinct pulls them into the migration patterns their ancestors followed for generations, and now they follow as well, creating an amazing pattern of life.

Every fall, I add another number to my chronological age.  The numbers don’t really bother me like I thought they would, I still feel the same inside.  An old neighbor of mine once told told me that the years go by faster the older you get.  This scares me, because they go by so quickly already.

The winter comes every year, and every year it catches me off guard.  I’m not ready.  Not ready for the cold or the wind, or the snow or the ice.  I wish for the warm nights of summer, fireflies dancing in the grass, and planting.  Planting everything, working the garden to see what will grow, what will fail, and what will turn into something extraordinary from a seed, some dirt, and some water; the promise of what is yet to come.  The miracle of life and death, and rebirth; of hibernation and migration, the circle of life.

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Sunday started out as a beautiful day. The temperature rose into the 50’s, there was a very light breeze, and it was a beautiful spring day. (Don’t forget, I live in North Dakota.)  I started out by cleaning my chicken coop of the soiled straw.  I shoveled it up, and made numerous trips to the garden to dump it.  My husband started a bonfire to burn some old pallet boards.  The chickens ran around the yard, pecking and scratching at the dirt, and eating all the seeds they could find.

After the coop was cleaned out, I put in fresh straw for the ladies, and they pecked and scratched at that too.  I found my pair of loppers and started cutting and pruning the dead wood from my privet hedge, and cutting it down to a manageable 6 feet tall from the 9 or 10 it had grown to last fall. The dead wood went in the fire. I cut down my raspberry stalks and burned them up too.   My husband grilled some elk sausage and elk steaks over the fire for us and our son.  And it was good.


Then, the wind started to pick up in the afternoon.  The wind continued into the night, and we knew the storm was coming.  The air felt shifted.  It felt heavy.  The next morning I went to work in the heavy, hard wind, and then the rain started. I wasn’t just any rain, but freezing rain.  It stuck to the windows, and where it hit, it froze immediately.  I could see the tiny grains of ice in the drops.  And then it stopped.  I put ice melt in front of the door.  Within a couple hours it all melted.  Then the next round started. This time it was graupel.  ( http://www.fsavalanche.org/encyclopedia/graupel.htm)  It coated the roads and the parking lot.  The corn husks and dried up leaves whipped across the parking lot.  When I went outside, the frozen pellets stung my face and then I realized the temperature had dropped quite a bit.  The wind rattled the windows and shook the walls.  All sorts of things flew by the window, and it was foreboding.

Once home, I sat and read for awhile. My husband, home from work an hour early because the interstates had closed at 3:30, was working in the garage putting the new tires on the golf cart. (Yes, we are optimists.) He came in and exclaimed that he couldn’t see our neighbor’s house behind us.  I looked out the window, and sure enough, behind the chicken coop was a white sheet, hiding the next house about a block away.  The snow continues into the night, reducing visibilities and making the roads very hard to travel.  It was dangerous.

In just 28 hours my backyard turned from a happy spring day, into a blizzard. Luckily, it only dumped 4 inches of snow on us, far short of the earlier prediction of 12 to 18. For this I was grateful, but still, I had to wonder if Mother Nature was playing an April Fool’s trick on us.  We went from the green grass starting to peak through the brown dead grass from last fall, to white snow.  We went from bonfire to snow bank in a very short time.  And it was discouraging.

Sometimes life is a lot like the weather.  Everything is going great, then something changes and a blizzard shows up, right in the middle of your nice spring day.  Things are going great, and then, in the blink of an eye, it all goes downhill.  Its so easy to give up hope when we perceive that bad things are happening to us.  Its easy to give in to depression and sadness, and think that things will never get back to normal.  But in reality, they always seem to work out for the best as long as we expect it to.

And it will.

I know that this is a temporary set back for the weather turning to warm summer days.  It will happen. It always does.  And as much as I rolled my eyes about this storm, the snow brings nitrogen to the soil, and moisture, which the crops, and the flowers, and the grasses, and the vegetables all need in the spring.  It may be uncomfortable for a short time, but in the long run, this makes things better.  It was adventageous.

Many times in our lives, its the hard things that define who we are.  Its the uncomfortable things that make us grow, and learn,  and live.  The next time you feel that you are in a downward spiral, stop fretting.  Open your parachute and rest easy, knowing that it will make you stronger.  Perhaps you will learn an important lesson that will benefit you in life. Perhaps you will meet someone who will become a best friend, or a significant other, or a beloved spouse. Perhaps you will gain life experiences that will help you write a book, start a business, or become a better person.

Life can only get you down if you let it. Because life is good.

Have you ever had an experience where you learned something good from a hurtful experience? I’d love to hear about it.



On A Winter’s Day…

Headed east on the highway, the snow blows hard across the cracked asphalt.  In places it sticks, and other places it blows so hard it hides the path.  The morning sun shines bright, and creates glowing corn stalks in the fields, cut and frozen, sticking out of the ground like sticks and stumps.  The frozen grasses peak through the snow banks, and stand at attention, too cold to wave.  The skeletons of the trees shimmer in the sunlight, glimmering in the wind.  The snow flecks like glitter thrown into the wind, scatter through the air where the tree rows block the wind, then they roar like a white freight train where they fly freely.

I hold the steering wheel tightly, every shelter belt a place where the wind tries to push the travelers off the road.  The sheltered areas have the white road, and the open areas have the black.  But its business as usual as everyone is headed to work, or school, or to whatever destination is the normal hum-drum, day-in day-out trip.

The fox runs out across the ditch from a hiding spot tucked away from the cold and the howling winds. He hesitates at the highway edge; looking, sniffing.  He darts out, stops unsure, then runs again to the safety of the opposite ditch and a line of trees where he disappears quite quickly; his red coat somehow camouflaged into the dirt covered snow banks littered with tree limbs.

I press the scan button on the radio and listen to the chatter, the blips of songs I don’t recognize, and then settle on a song I know by heart.  I meet the cars, trucks, and semi’s, and notice the driver’s faces.  Some are on their phones, in animate conversation, smiling and laughing.  Others look like zombies, driving this road a zillion times; they could do it in their sleep, and probably have.  The sun reflects off their cars as they go by, shining in my eyes.

What do they see?

Do they see the sun shining in its winter glory?  Did they see the fox in his winter coat?

Do they see the grasses, dormant, waiting patiently for spring to arrive?  Do they see the beauty of the landscape?

The fields glow, littered with sparkling diamonds. As I turn off and change directions, the red glow still lingers in my sight when I blink, from the low winter sun shining into my field of vision.  The snow now rippling across the road from a different direction, creating the illusion that the vehicle is going much slower than it really is.  I check the speed, and adjust.

The days grow longer and the sun flies higher in the sky.  The air grows warmer and the plants and animals rejoice, the people rejoice.  In excited anticipation we plan our activities for the warmer months.  I plant the hard little seeds in flats of soil, placed on shelves in my basement.  I water them, give them light, and pray for them to grow.  The elusive ones I check with apprehension, nothing yet.  Will they sprout?  Will they grow?  Or will they lie dormant in the wet dirt and rot?

Some seeds are fragile, and require much care and pampering to grow. Other seeds are aggressive, growing out of control.  Nature is wild, unpredictable, like the fox, and the wind, and the snow.  People try to domesticate nature, and in some little ways we succeed; we plant the fields, cut trees, predict the weather.  But we are foolish if we believe we have any of it under control.

The fox curls up in his den, warm with his mate.  The wind howls in the branches over this little hole in the ground, and they sleep, oblivious.