Murray’s pokeweed

So this master gardener class, I actually finished the classroom work last May but you don’t get to graduate until the following winter after you complete 25 hours of volunteering and 25 hours of plant clinic  where actual people come in with limbs, roots, desiccated leaves, berries, and various other garden/ weed items to have you either help them identify it, tell them how to get rid of it or tell them how to cure whatever may be wrong with it. That is a lot of anxiety for me. There could be any number of things that look similar. What if I recommend the wrong treatment? I’m telling you, I began to understand how doctors feel. Some of these plants are heirlooms or were someone’s great-great Aunt Martha’s plant and Must.Not.Die.

So I did manage to get through the plant clinic work. The volunteering was a lot of fun because it is nearly all outside, either pulling weeds, planting new seasonal plants or pruning, dead-heading. I did enjoy the weed pulling. It’s very therapeutic. Until one day.

I was under a canopy of shrubbery pulling out chamber bitter and various other noxious weeds when I spotted a poke weed. Unless you are from somewhere in the South you probably will not know what this is. Every part of this plant is toxic once it sets flower buds until the berries (juicy purple things that birds love and stain everything) are gone and the plant dies. Even then you should never try to eat it.

Called poke salad (pronounced poke salit, a song made famous by Tony Joe White, “Poke Salad Annie” written and recorded 1968 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz4DvG4bQ2o), humans sometimes eat the tender leaves in spring but must be very careful that no evidence of a flower stalk has begun to grow. I do not recommend this with or without flower stalks. Ever.

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So this plant had been there for a while. A few years maybe. It was doing no harm under this canopy.  No one could even see it, not unless they crawled under to where I was which wasn’t likely. I was surprised it had even survived because these things take full sun, happily. And heat. No problem. So here is this plant and I had a time cutting through its stem but finally did and proudly emerged with it, casually tossing it onto the growing pile of weeds and debris to be discarded.

Silence descended on our little group. Figuring everybody was just too hot to talk I went back to my weeding.

Murray, an older gentleman whom everyone knows and loves wandered up. Suspendered, a sheen of perspiration across his brow he walked over to peruse the results of the work we’d done. I barely heard him, but did for sure hear, “I figured somebody’d pull out that pokeweed one day.”

I was mortified. Were it in my yard it would have been permitted to stay since it does attract any number of songbirds. But this was a public garden, highly manicured. And I was a novice. Unseasoned as to the particulars of what others’ preferences and habits are. Still, I learned a very important lesson that day. Sometimes a weed, especially one that shows grace in humility among refined, well-bred flora, are encouraged to stay.

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darkness

I don’t remember being afraid of the dark when I was little. I do remember knowing without doubt that there were alligators under my bed and I had magic, invisible stepping stones from my bed to the bathroom if I had to get up in the night.

The disciples of Jesus knew a darkness none of us has to know. From about 3 in the afternoon of Good Friday until Easter morning. Jesus had told them He would leave them. He had told them He would be betrayed. They did not understand what He was saying. So when Judas brought the soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden the disciples fled. All but two– Peter and John. And Peter denied ever knowing Him.

They watched Him painfully dragging the crossbeam upon which He would die. Those who were with Him at His crucifixion saw the nails driven through His battered flesh and watched, waiting, until He cried out and died.

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They left Him. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two men known to have secretly visited Jesus with Pilate’s permission took Him down from the cross and buried Him in a tomb. The priests, afraid His disciples would play some trick and steal his body out of the tomb asked Pilate to set a watchman. Pilate told the priests to seal the tomb and watch for themselves. Which they did.

Jesus was dead. He was in hell. He was separated from God the Father. None of His followers knew what would happen. None knew what to believe. I know that I would not have known either.

Even the women who stayed by Him on the cross, Mary Magdalene, Mary His mother and Mary, wife of Cleopas did not know. Because Easter morning two of them went to see what they could do for Jesus in His burial but when they arrived the stone was rolled away. The tomb was open. An angel sitting there inside the tomb said to them “He is not here, He has risen, as He said.”

And then He began to appear to others– these women, frightened, alone, then His disciples, then about 500 other believers. He spoke and ate with them. They saw His body again. With pierced hands, feet, side. And they began to understand exactly Who He was. What He did.

The unimaginable pain of scourging. The suffocation on the cross. The humiliation of punishment for sins He did not commit. All for love of us. Then nothing. Darkness. His spirit in hell, separated from His eternal relationship with God, the Father.

He suffered all of this, even hell, so we won’t ever have to.

Only if we believe. And follow.

Love and serve.

It isn’t magic. It’s holy. And I am only human but I go to Him often. I tell Him my heart and plead that He will help me keep a soft heart. For Him. For you. For me. Forever.

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holy week

This is a week in the calendar year like any other. Same days, same hours. Only what is remembered makes it different. Sets it apart. Passover. The remembrance of what God did for His people. Easter. The remembrance of what Jesus Christ did, for all people.

Irrespective of any religion. Or political position. Or persona.

Think about Adam and Eve. God created them after He had created everything else. They were not of any faith. God created them out of His love. And they were not created with strings or pre-programming. They had freedom. To enjoy, to choose, to be obedient. The serpent did not force them into a decision. He made a case for disobedience, presented it and Eve bought it. She chose to disobey God. Then she presented a case to Adam. He chose to disobey, too.

They did this out of their freedom. And subsequently the rest of us have been born into what they did, their failure in obedience to God.

So Jesus. He came, God in flesh. A Man with physical, temporal and spatial limitations yet God. He lived with us, ate, laughed, talked with us. He healed, performed miracles. Yet He had chosen to do something else even we could not do for ourselves. Take our sins, our sinfulness of then, now and future to Himself, a sinless, perfect God-in-flesh man. He was not a victim of the hatred for Him among the Priests and the indifference of Rome. He knew what would be because God’s love offered Him for this. And He chose to obey God, out of His own love for us.

Nothing we can do or offer or say can achieve what Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from that death does.

So we, too have a choice. We can choose to live our lives on our own sufficiency, without acknowledging Him, our need for Him which each of us has and we exhibit this need by attempting to fill it with many other earthly things… achievement, drugs, athletic prowess, friendships, status, name it, if it’s there and we think it’s important, we use it and it becomes an idol.

Because we, like it or not, believe it or not, were created by a loving God with a need for connection to Him. And Jesus is this connection for us. For all of us.

We can never, even if we don’t do anything wrong by human standards, become truly connected with God, our Creator. Not on our own. We need Jesus, who He is, what He did for us out of love and because we can’t.

And so each of us has to make a decision. Beyond what we believe is moral or right or truth. There is a truth beyond our laws, our beliefs, ourselves and we need Him. If we don’t choose Him we have still made a choice. Maybe we don’t make a choice today but we will have to someday and the sooner the better because none of us knows when our last moment, our last breath, the end of ourselves will be.

So this is what this week is about. Whether we choose to remember or not.

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squirrels

My dogs truly completely hate these creatures.

I am beginning to feel the same, the way these fluffy-tailed rats dig up my seed beds, planters and flowers to bury… what? There are no acorns yet. Maybe they are burying the sunflower seed I put out for the songbirds. They hang upside-down munching away while the birds wait their turns in top tree branches.

Then the hounds are loosed.

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu streak out the back door, flat out the entire 25 yards to the feeders while the squirrels nonchalantly swing down from their posts of fatness to idly climb the nearby trees. They know Lily and Lulu can’t follow them up there. No sooner are the dogs back inside than the squirrels are back at the feeders so we loop this circuit over and over until the squirrels finally give up. The birds resume their feasting until the squirrels come back again, which they always do.

Where I moved from there was a neighbor I was told a couple of blocks away who used squirrels for target practice with a BB gun. He was a lousy shot. I replaced 3 windows in the 5 years I lived there. Four, if you count the side window that was lost to a neighbor’s fireworks misfire.

The late Bob Ross, the television landscape oil painter/teacher had a rescued baby squirrel he sometimes carried in his shirt pocket on tv as he painted. He named this squirrel Peapod. Well once you name something you have claimed it for your own, which he did. Evidently this relationship was congenial. I was not a regular viewer of the program but the times I did see it when Mr. Ross spoke of this squirrel or had him on he never mentioned that it bit him, scratched him or did any other squirrelly things.

Not likely but I do hope my dogs do not ever catch one. Pretty sure husky-mix Lily would make quick work of it. Terrier-mix Lulu is more likely to want to play with it, I think, but I hope she never catches one all the same.

The other day as we wound up our nature park walk we came across an adolescent (?) squirrel lying on the path ahead of us. At first I thought perhaps he fell out of his nest as they sometimes do and was stunned. As we got closer I saw he had no head. Likely some owl or hawk got him and was too eager to begin its feast before dining properly atop a tree branch or electrical pole and dropped the remainder of him. Just as glad I saw it and retrieved it before the dogs did.

Drama of nature.

transparent

I am no physicist, nor chemist.

Now that that’s out of the way, I love that water has skin.

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Its surface, unlike human skin, is easily penetrable. And it is transparent, usually. You can see beneath whether it is deep or if it’s shallow, whatever lurks in its depths.

Not so with people unless we decide to be transparent. Then we give from whatever it is beneath our surface. Behind the smile, is it joy or hiding something?

Water, you can tell. People you can’t always tell.

And gelatin has skin. Sort of. It’s viscous though… its skin is basically the same all the way to the bottom and sides of the bowl. And it’s transparent, but it has nothing but gelatin unless you put fruit or something in before it jelled. But if you touch it you leave an impression. And if you break the surface unlike water it stays that way.

With water you can look at the surface if it’s still, undisturbed and see your reflection, but not yourself. Sometimes with a person you can see your reflection in their eyes, and sometimes see yourself as well. You touch the surface of water and your hand comes away with part of its molecular structure. You touch a person, maybe a few cells get stuck but only if the connection is in a heart or in a mind in understanding, empathy you have a part of who they really are. And they you. Like with gelatin. An impression is made. Sometimes we may not like what we see. Sometimes we may misunderstand what we see. People change. Their thoughts, their hearts, their hopes.

And life changes people.

It’s just something you know

Sometimes.

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vignettes

Colder, wetter weather is said to be coming this way soon so this morning, though much cooler, I bundled rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and myself into the car around 6:15. It usually takes 10-15 minutes to drive the 7-8 miles to the beach but this morning there was no traffic and the lights were with us so we arrived a few minutes before the sun broke over the horizon.

There were the usual ragged groupings of people– college students standing rigid with arms deep in their jacket pockets stamping against the cold impatient for the sun to appear, 2 or 3 people huddled under blankets or beach towels on benches and scattered across the beach and a few others.

Just as the sun sparkled over the water I heard a tiny >shriek!< to my left. Pretty sure it was someone excited the sun appeared and now they could go get someplace warm I looked over to see a young man down on one knee, holding a small glittering box in his hands and a young girl in front of him (the one who shrieked) now beginning to sob. I felt a bit embarrassed witnessing such a private moment until I saw a lady not far videoing it with her phone. A friend, capturing the moment for posterity (or youtube).

We walked on a ways. A young man with an elderly dog at his feet. The person, taking pictures of the sunrise and completely ignoring his faithful friend below. The dog took no notice of my lovely two and almost with a visible sigh walked back a few paces, picked up his ball-throwing toy and dropped it at his person’s feet. Waiting patiently.

We moved on. The tide had just turned so a few rogue waves were still pushing their way up over the tide mark, making their impression before the full moon caused them to relinquish the surge. Enough though to wet our feet and cause us to dance up onto drier sand.

A few joggers, one or two braving the morning chill from the island hotels. As the days move on more and more return.

After about a half hour or so of walking, Lily, characteristic of her willful self, reached up and grabbed the leash from my hand with her teeth as if to say, “Ok, I’ve got this, let’s go!” and bounced the other way back toward the car.

The happy couple had disappeared, as had the college students and other odd groupings. A few more runners, a shell seeker or two.

A very special morning had broken.

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perseverance

When I was much younger I was easily discouraged. I guess like many baby boomer children so much came so easily. Our parents for the most part had not only seen a World War but likely had grown up during the Great Depression and wanted to protect their own kids from so much deprivation. Not so much my parents. They knew what it meant to appreciate anything, to repair things or as the New England saying goes: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Even if this lavishing of everything was not what my brother and I experienced, knowing my friends got everything they wanted and then some must have affected me then to some degree, unfortunately. I remember the girl in 5th grade with a pair of sneakers to match every dress or pair of pants she wore. Honestly, some of those colors? Her mom must’ve dyed them. Those colors just are not mass-produced. Or the friends who had so many dolls or toys leaving them out in the rain to be ruined meant nothing to them. I guess I was jealous.

My dad used to complain when I was in high school and dodged another of his pesky challenges that I would just pack my lance over my shoulder and go home.

Wish he were here now.

Funny how we grow up and suddenly everything our parents tried to teach us makes sense. Earlier this week rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I took an early morning walk on the beach. This being March the winds raged and sand blew everywhere. Poor Lulu is a Jack Parson/Boston terrier mix so being close to the ground she likely swallowed more than a few grains of sand. But I noticed the ocean

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The wind was blowing from the west, sending showers of spray back off the crests of every wave, yet the wave persisted forward. Nothing stopped the waves from crashing to shore, no matter how hard the winds blew. There was enough force to propel the wave on its course. Somehow with people sometimes, whether by ingratitude, satiety, or indifference that impetus fails. The wind blows and someone just sits back down. Whatever captured their sense of purpose has met resistance and they stop.

Passion should never fail. Nothing short of reasonable legal, moral and ethical bounds should prevent a heart from driving onward to its vision. I realize many people– my brother is one (doctor), my son another (graphic design) –know early what they love to do and want it badly enough to stop for nothing in their pursuit of it. There needs to be so much more of this. I also realize technology is now such an enormous aspect of life, yet we still need thinking, reasoning people, with hearts of discipline and compassion to continue building for good.

So maybe we all don’t know what to be when we grow up but there is always hope. For any and all of us.

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