I have a dream

It began at a gas station. I had just filled the gas tank of my car, and I was prepared for a long drive home. I had not been home for a while, and I was looking forward to returning.

The service road was crowded with traffic, so I had to wait a bit for a gap before I could leave. But soon I was on my way, merging onto the Interstate. Almost immediately I passed some construction, and some of the vehicles in front of me pulled over into the site, but I kept on driving.

The next thing I knew, I was on Washington Street in my childhood hometown. Some trees next to the street were in bloom, covered with flowers. I pulled a branch to my face and sniffed, but I smelled no odor.

After that I was home. I knew people were sleeping, so I was moving quietly from room to room. Suddenly, I heard the Beatles singing “Paperback Writer.” I knew that my alarm was going off, and my first thought was worry that the alarm had been playing every morning while I was away.

Then I woke. My alarm was playing “Paperback Writer,” as I had set it to do last night. I had not been away from home, and my alarm had not been disturbing my family during my absence.

Most of the dream makes sense: my returning home after an absence, my departure somewhat delayed by traffic, passing through construction—all that I understand. But I am trying to decipher the odorless flowers close to home.

Any suggestions? J.

Seasons change

“The winter is forbidden ’til December/ And exits March the second on the dot./ By orders summer lingers through September/ in Camelot.”

I doubt that I would be fully happy in the climate-controlled world of Camelot as described by Lerner and Lowe. I enjoy the surprise of an unexpected snow in October or in April. Moreover, I prefer autumn weather to summer heat, so I wouldn’t choose to have summer linger through September.

However, part of my family routine is to mark the change of the seasons by the wreath on our front door. We have a patriotic, red-white-and-blue wreath that goes on the door during Memorial Day weekend and remains until Labor Day weekend. It is then replaced by a wreath with colorful plastic autumn leaves which stay on the door until around the first of December. Our winter wreath has evergreen and pine cones and stays on the door until the second of March. Every second of March, on the dot, the winter wreath is replaced with a spring wreath that has little yellow plastic flowers which match the flowering bush in our front yard.

This change of seasons on our front door runs about three weeks ahead of the calendar change of seasons, the changes which fall on the solstices and equinoxes in December, March, June, and September. In the United States of America the social season of summer traditionally starts with Memorial Day weekend and ends with Labor Day weekend. Both weekends are known for an extra day off of work and often are celebrated with family picnics, cook-outs, and other seasonal outings. By matching the change of seasons on the front door with those social customs, we naturally shift the other two changes to the start of Advent in the Christian Church and to the end of winter in Camelot.

March is said to come in like a lion and to go out like a lamb. I can remember frigid and snowy starts to March, and I can remember Marches that began with thunderstorms and heavy rain. I can also remember warm, sunny, calm beginnings to the month of March. Like other weather traditions, the lion-and-lamb theme is unreliable, but it is fun to remember the tradition and to pretend that it is true.

April showers, they say, bring May flowers, and that tends to be true in New England and in the upper Heartland states. Ask any child what May flowers bring, and the child will either give you a puzzled stare or respond with the correct answer, “Pilgrims.” Migrating birds respond more to the length of the day than to the weather; sometimes they have to deal with ice and snow at their springtime arrival. Onion skins and wooly caterpillars are supposed to indicate the severity of the coming winter, but they also are wrong as often as they are right.

If the weather was entirely predictable, we would have less to discuss with each other. Aside from catastrophic floods, droughts, and winds, the weather is a useful conversation-starter. It also provides enduring memories. I can recall a Christmas with temperatures in the seventies and another Christmas when the temperature remained below zero degrees-they were exactly one year apart. I can remember when the first warm day of spring happened to be Easter Day, and I remember being trapped for hours in traffic during an evening snowfall on Valentines’ Day.

Perhaps Camelot would not have ended in such frightful disputes if the knights and ladies could have spent their time commenting on the unseasonable weather. J.


Caretaker or controller?

This weekend most people in the neighborhood were busy with lawn care. Saturday, I had some work to get done indoors on the computer, so I missed the flurry of mowers and blowers. In fact, I put on some loud rock CDs to miss as much as the mowing and blowing as possible. I had to run an errand around three o’clock, and Mrs. Dim glared at me as I drove off. I wasn’t alone, and the other person noticed the glaring too. “I have leaves on my lawn,” I explained, “and she’s getting all the leaves off her lawn. This is very important to her.”

“What a sad excuse for a life,” my friend said.

Mrs. Dim got her work done yesterday. More than twenty large black bags line the curb along her yard. They are on the street (which is against the law) because she doesn’t want them on her grass. And only a few leaves have fallen on her lawn so far today.

This afternoon after lunch I got out my rake and my wheelbarrow and went to work. First I cleared the front lawn, moving all the loose leaves to the curb (but still on the grass by the curb, because it is illegal to put them on the street). The city will come by with a machine to pick up loose leaves within six feet of the curb; they will be turned to mulch and used by the park district. When the front lawn was clear, I started raking the back yard, carting loads of leaves to add to the pile by the curb in the front yard. After more than an hour I quit, both because my muscles were getting sore and because the pile of leaves within six feet of the curb was about as high as gravity will allow. I will continue the job another day.

Using the rake and the wheelbarrow, I was able to hear birds singing while I worked (except when another neighbor was using his mower). Leaving the leaves loose, I have the pleasure of knowing that they will become mulch instead of rotting in a landfill. I recently read that thirteen percent of the space in our nation’s landfills contains bagged leaves and lawn clippings that will merely decompose in their bags without doing good for anyone. I’m glad to know that the leaves that fell on my lawn can be mulch in my flowerbeds, and when my flowerbeds are full, the rest can be mulch elsewhere.

Mrs. Dim and I have very different philosophies about lawn care. She wants immediate gratification—she wants what she considers the perfect lawn today, and she is unconcerned about the world her grandchildren will inherit. I’m more interested in taking care of the entire world and leaving it better for my children and grandchildren. If it irritates the neighbors to see leaves on my lawn, I try not to let their attitude bother me. I remember that every bag of leaves I do not send to the landfill leaves the world a tiny bit better for future generations.

The philosophic difference is even larger, though. I see myself and my fellow human beings as caretakers of the world God made. Wherever possible, I try to work within the system the Creator established in his wisdom. If a patch of wildflowers appears on my property, I mow around it and let the flowers bloom. Mrs. Dim doesn’t want just to take care of her property. She wants to control her property. She calls the wildflowers weeds and poisons them so they don’t disturb her grass. She tends her flowerbeds so they contain only the flowers she planted there. She bags her leaves and then spends money for mulch at the store. She does not care to hear the birds sing while she controls her property. Mrs. Dim is not content with the world that the Creator designed; she is determined to improve it to meet her high standards.

When someone has a different approach to lawn care, Mrs. Dim glares at them while they drive off to do other tasks. When someone’s opinion is different from mine, I don’t glare at them. I just allow them to inspire another blog post. Enjoy your lawn, Mrs. Dim, and have a nice day. J.

Of weeds and wildflowers

Let’s start with some important definitions. A weed is a plant on your property that you do not want. It might be as small as a patch of moss or as big as an oak tree, but if you don’t want it, it is a weed.

A wildflower is a flowering plant that grows without being planted or tended by any person. Wildflowers grow in the wild, of course, but they also can grow on your property. If you like it and want to keep it, it is not a weed. It is a wildflower.

Obviously, one person’s wildflower is another person’s weed. Each person should be free to make up his or her own mind about the plants on his or her own property. Members of a household may need to negotiate with one another about weeds and wildflowers, but unless a neighborhood association or city council defines certain plants as weeds, the definitions can change at each property line.

I have neighbors whose lawns are nothing but carefully tended grass. They use chemicals to kill the broad-leaf weeds that they do not want, and they limit flowers to carefully nurtured plants and shrubs in carefully tended beds. They labor every fall to remove the leaves from their lawns nearly as quickly as the leaves fall, and in spring and summer they spend hours of each week mowing and trimming and edging their lawns.

My lawn does not look like their lawns. A few days after the last snow melts, tiny flowers appear across the lawn. I think they are called cinqfoils. Most of them are white, but some of them are pale pink and lavender. I love the spring cinqfoils, and the first time or two that I mow, I leave patches of them to continue blooming.

Before the cinqfoils have finished blooming, the violets are in bloom. I have allowed and encouraged violets to grow along the edges of the lawn, especially in front of the house. Other places where patches of violets are thick also are spared mowing until several weeks into spring weather.

Then while the violets are still blooming, some wild daisies (at least they look like daisies) emerge. Some years I have mowed them down, but when I realized what kind of plant they are, I decided to leave a bed of blossoms for them also. In fact, I might leave that patch of lawn unmowed into the summer to see what else appears there when the daisies are done.

White clover grows in the lawn. I like the clover because it fills the spots where the grass is thin. It also takes well to mowing. One summer a drought killed off much of our clover, but it is beginning to return, and I am delighted to see it grow.

I do not spare dandelions the way I spare violets and cinqfoils, but I also do not work hard to fight them. When I have time, I might dig out a few dandelion plants, but I am not going to start spraying to kill them, for fear that I will lose my other valued wildflowers.

I watch my neighbor as she works harder than a golf course manager to maintain a lawn that meets her standards. I know that she resents my wildflowers, because I know that to her they are all weeds. I would like to take her aside and say to her, “Mrs. Dim, were you never a little girl? Did you never look for four-leaf clovers, and when you found one you felt that you had good luck? Didn’t you used to love to blow the seeds of a dandelion into the air? Was there never a time when you picked violets or made a chain of daisies? Why would you want to deny your grandchildren the same simple pleasures? I hear you complain that they spend all their time on video games and electronic devices. But maybe, Mrs. Dim, just maybe they would take more interest in the outdoors if their outdoors were not so carefully managed and sanitized.”

Of course I will never have this conversation with my neighbor. She has every right to maintain her property the way she likes. But I feel sorry for her. She is missing so much fun and so much beauty by eliminating the wildflowers and all that they represent.