Archive for nature studies

The Once and Future Homeplace

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No! Stephie cried when she heard that her relatives were selling the family farm. She had begged her mother to help her save it and her mother was definitely an advocate of saving it, but it wasn’t “hers”. It wasn’t I her name and all of her begging and all of her daughter’s tears and heartfelt letters didn’t change what was to come.

Her mother described it as “like a death”, as they tried not to watch the bulldozers build roads and then driveways. Sometimes. They would swallow their pride and go on walks up the now, ruined valley that had once been so beautiful, so unusual, with its north side and south side and the different plant life that chooses each environment.

It was heart breaking to trudge over the humps of dirt where the developers were making roads. Stephie remembered the days when she had walked these hills with her grandmother, aunt and mother. She remembered the galax plants on the end of the north side and the stream where cattle had crossed, making it wider and melodious as it tumbled over the rocks. Stephie grew up going to the pasture with her mom and hunting “lizards and crayfish” in the creek. The memory of it was one of her childhood favorites.

Stephie was afraid of the cattle and the goat her grandparents kept in the pasture. She once cut her had badly trying to make it through the barbed-wire fence when a bull charged her. She remembered the six-foot long black snakes in the barn and the garter snakes that surprised her as she jumped the small ditches that ran down the hillsides. But this place was like heaven and she could not imagine that a realtor with a wad of money had convinced her aunt and uncle to sell the property they once cherished.

Of course she knew their age and health and the death of her grandparents, who lived into their 90’s was part of it. But Stephie had always thought the family would be asked if they wanted to buy it first, or at least, that it would be left to the nieces and nephews in a will.

The houses of the wealthy began to replace the small streams and spring beauty, the curvy road was not in the place the cattle trail had been, it was soon taken over by briars and weeds. A cousin rescued the old bathtub the cattle drank from. Though she never understood her aunts and uncles motivation, and though she cried over it, told them how it hurt her many times, she forgave them and loved them and sometimes watched an eight-tack tape of the pasture before the developers ruined it.

Decades went by, Stephie married and bought the “old family home” on a road nearby. Her older children remembered the pasture, the younger did not. In her mind, she never got over the desire to buy some land, have it belong to their family, and for them to value it like she did. She taught her children and grandchildren that there were more things like TV’s computers, fancy houses, clothes, but God made only so much land and when it was gone, it was gone. Period.

Sometimes she felt a bit selfish for the hurt she felt towards her beloved aunt, but there must have been some issue her aunt would not reveal to her that made her separate herself from the love of that place with the beautiful view where she build her house and had her farm. She had kept her home and a few acres, but Stephie feared she would sell them too and a rich person would tear down the house and build a mansion, after all, the house had the best best view in the valley. She would do everything she could to keep that from happening!

One day, Stephie, who was the grandmother of quite a few grandchildren by now, saw an ad for a farm about 40 miles away with a small farm house, a trout stream and 20 acres. Her heart trembled.DSCN1676

She nervously called the number of the farm which was on the border of the next state, in a very rural area with isolated mountains. A man who sounded very old answered the phone with a wavering voice. “I don’t want to sell my farm,” he said, fighting tears. “I don’t want to see it developed or ruined, I love this place, it is my heart. My wife died last year and we have no children, I just want someone to love it like I did.”

Stephie fought back her own tears, and quietly told the old man, “Then you’ve found your girl’. She told him the story of lost farm, how it hurt her and that she wanted her grand children to get to spend time out in the wild places that she remembered from her youth. “I don’t know where I will go….” the man said softly. “How about nowhere?” Stephie smiled.

“What?” The old man said and as he held his breath, Stephie realized they had not even introduced them selves and told him her name. “My name is John Withers,” he said. “Have you ever heard of a “life estate” she asked and when Mr. Withers said “no”, Stephie attempted to explain to him how she would buy the farm now, but not take possession of it until after his passing.

Mr. Withers was in tears by now. “I know God sent you to me.” he sniffled. I prayed every night that some one would come along who would love this place like I do,” Stephie laughed, “Well, life has not been good to me, and praying isn’t easy but I have hoped and even tried to pray hat I could find a place like yours for my family to have-forever. They both sat silently for a minute and then she laughed, “You know, I haven’t even seen your property, but I know, without a doubt, that I will love it., When can we come and meet you?”

Somewhere inside her, Stephie felt a peace that she could not even remember. She had actually made someone happy and in the process, fulfilled her lifetime dream as well. A few weeks later a van load of Stephie’s family rumbled up the long dirt road to meet Mr. Withers. From the moment they saw the land, they knew it was the place they were supposed to have, They would share it, enjoy weekends there, holidays together, maybe have a garden again. Mr. Withers had offered them use of the land when ever they wished,if he could just live in the house. Stephie talked about build one, just one big house up on the hill for her big family, and Mr. Withers gladly agreed.

It had been 40 years since Stephie’s heart was broken by the ale of “her farm” the one she grew up next to. She had given up on ever being able to afford to find another one. After all the years, all the tears, sorrow, and pain, something had worked out right for two strangers. Stephie was sure that Mr. Withers would have a bigger family now than he ever imagined!

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MUSCADINE MEMORIES

DSCN2817One day last week when I was at your house-okay cleaning out your now empty house, I noticed the most wonderful vine of the old fashioned Muscadine grapes growing up a tree at the edge of your yard.

I have never seen anything like it! Oh, Dad, how I wanted to run in and get you and show you the redbud tree hanging full of Muscadine grapes. You and mom grew up very differently, but I lost you both in your 87th year. Mom was a few years older, so I had to watch you drown in the misery of waking up without her after 62 years together.

l I haven’t been able to write for the past few months, since I lost you. There is so much inside me, I know I will never remember the feelings as I did when they were fresh, and I will always resent it. What kept me from writing was not because of you passing, but the pain was nearly as bad. A violation by someone, of my deepest thoughts, written in my journal, had made me feel as though I had been robbed of my most precious gift-the truths, good or bad that I written in a journal to the son I lost when he was 15 years old nearly every day.

When I saw the Muscadines, I knew the only reason they had survived was because they were wound around the branches so high in the redbud tree. Your neighborhood is full of bears, and my son who lives next door has seen many walking through your yards. My aunt on the hill above you had lost her grapes to the bears, as had neighbors and friends, I couldn’t think of anyone who hadn’t lost their grapes to the bears. A surprise for you, dad, but a couple of months too late.

All this time that I have been unable to write, I have though of you and mom, of my Andrew, all the loss, the sickness and pain I have endured, all the court stuff I had to endure in order to settle your estate. Hell has been my constant companion. Maybe that’s why the wild grapes were so special-a moment of joy and beauty amidst all the pain.

I can write now, the anger over having been put through a completely unnecessary hell during the weeks proceeding your loss have dissipated to the point where not writing would let the evil win-and I damn well wouldn’t do that. So I will write a few of the memories that the Muscadines brought to me. Perhaps, in some small way, they will help me heal.

Dad, I had seen your health failing for a long time, your memory and rationality fading as well, and I had been working to get things in order. I felt a lot of guilt, many of the decisions I had to make were hard. I knew without a doubt that I was doing what you wanted me to do, but there was still a ring of guilt to suddenly be the ‘one who held the gold’.My kids and I will never forget your slightly evil (but loving) smile, when we would want something that your conservative mind could not quite go along with and we would see you smile, as you looked at us and said, “You know the ‘Golden Rule?” And we did know it. Your “Golden Rule” had always been, “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”(possibly first used by Confucius) -and it had always before meant YOU. Suddenly it was ME.

Part of me anxiously awaited my turn at “holding the gold”, and part of me had always feared the responsibility that came with it. Now, that I did “hold the gold”, even though you were still here in a weakened condition, I found the responsibility both humbling and empowering. Every decision that was made was MY responsibility, every mistake made was my fault. Suddenly, I wondered how you could have held that responsibility all those years and smiled as you reminded us of it. It was completely terrifying.

Thinking back, again, (and not having allowed myself to write it), I remembered the little gift your grandchildren and I received within moments of your death. My son’s friend, who had been with us when you died and had loving called me “Mah-mah” since his childhood, had called my son on his cell phone and told him to look at a photo he had made with his phone. In his picture, directly over the spot where my mom (and soon you) would be buried, there had suddenly appeared a beautiful rainbow, so perfectly centered above your graves that it had seemed like a message from God.

Muscadines…they reminded me of so many of the moments in nature I had shared with my grandparents, parents and children through the years. Those little snips of beauty that stay with you as though your mind was a camera, even though you had no actual photo. I thought of Andrew, three or four years old, staring up at a huge sunflower. I will never forget the look of wonder on his face as he gazed up at that eight-foot high flower, as golden as the sun, above him. I remembered finding the hillside filled with bloodroot flowers whenI took a walk with my children were they were quite young. I showed them how the plant got its name from the Mercurochrome-colored fluid that flowed from the stem when it was injured or broken of. Many years later, I witnessed one of my children, telling the same story to their child.

Once, when I was about ten years old, my grandmother, aunt, my mother and I, went on our daily walk in my grandparents pasture. Suddenly, my grandmother almost stepped on a snake. My mother screamed and my aunt laughed, “Its only a garter snake.” she smiled as she saw my mother look away. My mother was never afraid of snakes or spiders and was quite embarrassed at her own reaction. “I hadn’t looked that close yet”, she mumbled, and we knew it was true. Mother always told me that she was much more afraid of men than of spiders and snakes, “because you knew what a spider or snake was going to do.”

My aunt ran a little country store and to this day, I can see my mother marching in with a black widow spider she had caught in a jar. Even the men stepped back a bit as she told them about catching it on the very steps they had just gone up. I could write a book on “the little store” stories that my cousins and I shared as we enjoyed freedoms modern children no longer have-wandering the neighborhood without supervision. To this day, my favorite “little store” stor is the time mu cousin, Johnny, who was maybe 14, pretended to vomit on the store’s steps as my furious uncle tried to sweep up the fake plastic vomit before someone stepped in it. A crowd of cousins stood at the edge of the store building giggling away. When my uncle realized that he had been duped by a teenager, he was madder than ever.

Sometimes, in this rough and often cruel life, a simple scene like the muscadine grapes will bring us back to all the good memories we have had. For a moment, we smile, we realize how much love surrounded us, even when we were a bit naughty. WE close our eyes and remember those who are gone now and find ourselves smiling rather than shedding ear. Just for a moment, those muscadine memories surround us, comfort us and ring us home. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all.

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From the Bus Stop

In spring we watch, day by day as the snowball bush goes from a tangle of limbs to a magical green. Days pass and the blossoms of white start to appear and the green darkens among the growing snowballs. Weeks pass quickly ad we count the days until school is out. the snowballs, now so heavy that they weigh down the limbs have taken on a purple hue towards the middle ad the begin to wither and die.

Summer has come and we have watched the dogwoods change their shades of green leaves, observe the daily opening of the blooms, and
once again , watch them wither and die.

When summer has ended (way too soon) and we are back in the morning mist of August, we see that the Joe Pye Weeds are waving in warm winds beau the rushing stream.

Soon the dogwoods take on an increasing reddish hue and leaves of gold flutter down from the many deciduous trees on the hillside.
As the leaves fall from the dogwood trees, clumps of red berries have appeared in the frost where blossoms once sparkled in spring storms.

As we watch time go by, from the first buds of spring to the lushness of summer, the glory of autumn and snowdrifts of winter, my children and I realise how quickly tome goes by and how fast they are growing.

Like the seasons, we grow and change. Each age, each season having its own special beauty. As a tear rushed down my cheek when I think of how quickly my children ate growing, I look longingly at them and realise that soon, they will be watching the seasons change with their own .

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She Sliters Away

It had been a fine summer for Sylvia. No floods, plenty of insects, the birth of a new group of live young. But now, it was time for Sylvia to find a place to spend the cold, Appalachian winter.

She slithered quietly through an overgrown garden, eating a few snacks on the way. Her tongue waved as she became aware of the scent of water and rotting wood. Perfect! A fallen maple presented itself not far from a tiny mountain stream.

Sylvia continued on up the low hill from the garden and explored the space underneath the log. It had fallen several years before and had created small spaces in the damp soil which she could work on in order to make her winter home.

She took one last breath of cooling fall air before she began carving her winter home in what appeared to have been home to a worm at one time. Gently, she curled up inside the hole, her fertilized eggs ready to grow inside her as she settled down for a long winter’s nap.

Sylvia had seen other snakes like her-garter snakes with a print of different colors of brown and she knew she was both beautiful and harmless. Smart human neighbors left her alone to eat the insects that consumed their gardens or simply admired her grace, perhaps hoping to see one of her babies as it slithered away from her as it hatched, alive and ready into a new world.

Her life had not always been easy. Once, a human ran over her mother with a lawnmower and a human mom who happened to study amphibians happened upon her. Her mother had died, but the kind lady saved two babies who were only slightly injured and let them go in he garden when they had healed in about a week. Thus, she and her brother had survived.

Sylvia often spent warm spring mornings in the lady’s garden and the lady would come by and speak to her, never touching her, only whispering greetings. How Sylvia wished that she could say, “Thank you.”, but, alas, it was no to be.

One day next summer, Sylvia would find a quiet place and give birth to her young. She would not give them any maternal care, only wish them a good life and watch them crawl away. Such is the life of a garter snake. The lady who saved her would always remember her, always hope she saw Sylvia in her garden. Their lives were separate, but forever bound.

Hopefully, one day, the lady’s children would tell stories about the baby snakes and teach others to appreciate them and share their yards and woodlands with them. Such is the way with nature. We share the same world, but in separate realities. I wish you well, Sylvia, and hope I see you or your young next year!

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Prompt Plead

WordPress Friends:

I am looking for PROMPTs to write about. I used to write for quite a few, but it seems they have all stopped publishing.  If you know of anyone who publishes PROMPTS to write for, please, let me know!  Thanks.

beebeesworld

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And Suddenly He Becomes a Man

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Today, he sits in the drivers seat as we listen for the rumble of the school bus, listen for the squeal of the brakes, and I watch him disappear into the bus as I scoot into the drivers seat.

If it were not for an error in the school drivers ed list, he would already e driving, so I am savoring these few extra moths when he has to be my chauffeur, my co-pilot.

Two or three years ago, it seems he played with Lego’s and played video games, this year his is studying computer coding and just finished an internship for the school system in this area. Where has time gone?

In three years, he has grown eight inches, and has almost caught up with his brother, who is 6’5” tall.

I miss my baby, we were so close. All of my children and I were close. The one I lost at age 15 when he collapsed while playing baseball, I dream of, eyes wide open , of who he would be, what he would be doing eight years later. I feel cheated, lied to. His death cost me more than words can describe.

I enjoy days with my daughters, chasing babies as I once chased them. They sigh and say, “I don’t know how you did it with six when two drive me crazy!” And I just smile and say, “Mom’s with lots of kids grow extra hands and endless hearts.”

The nus stop is beside my oldest son’s house, where he, his wife and three kids live. To see those little white heads running up to me and saying, “I love you, Beebee.” is a gift beyond compare.

Still, I have learned there is nothing like your own children. Grand kids as wonderful, but they are not yours. You and your own children have secret languages, know each others inner thoughts. You know how they like to be held, you can nurse them when they are fussy. You have your schedules, your speial subjects that you enjoy, things that arre privte between only you and yours.

Don’t get me wrong, grand kids are great, Not just because of the old addage that “You can send them home.” but that they are rather like a glimmer of your own child mixed with a gleam of their other parent. Sometimes you catch a familiar look or action that you remember from long ago-a smile, an impish grin, a silly giggle.

To see your last child. drive away in his own car, leave for college, get married, is so much more exciting to them that it is to the mom-left alone, feeling useless. A largely stay-at-home mom like me especially suffers when they have lost a child forever and have to watch that last living child spread his wings and fly. Your tears are filled with both relief and pride.

I was an only child. I learned about sibling rivalry from my own kids. I dreamed that my kids would grow up and be like the siblings I never had, but they didn’t. They are siblings to eachother-not to me, and I have to settle for being the mom who was once everything and is now, one who wove their being, but has found herself out of yarn.

I’m am surprised and proud of my youngest son. I was/am an old hippie, jeans and peasant shirts, leather sandals, guitars and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He dresses is suits and ties, has computer skills that make me feel illiterate, he worries that his teeth are shiny enough, that his shoes are clean enough. I wonder, sometimes, where I got him. Certainly, thank goodness, he is the opposite of his father-a Harley rider who enjoys road-side sales booths and collections of used clothing. At least my son and I think alike- finding joy in discovery, whether in nature, or in technology.

One day, it seems, a mother is looking into the eyes of a new life, never knowing what that child will become , And then, in the blink of an eye, that baby is a child, a teen, a young adult, a father or mother themselves. Life goes by much too quickly, sometimes bitter-sweet, just realizing that as they grew older, so did you.

Having to look in that dark glass of what might have been when we loose a child, is the worst pain a mother can feel, yet each moment spent with that precious child glimmers like a diamond. I don’t have another mother who is a close friend that has lost a child, neither can I can tell you how many times I would have liked to smack the well-meaning people who have , lost for words, remarked, “I know how you feel, I lost my sister, brother, friend,( fill in the blank). NO, they do not know and I pray they never will.

Next spring, watch the first pale leaves emerge from a flower, look at it each day as the green grows darker and buds start to form. Close your eyes and inhale the sweetness of the bloom, then let the flower go to seed and plant the seeds again next year. Life does not stand still, it must be protected and revered.

Read “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran if you want to get a beautiful picture of the phases of life. Read it to your children, sing to them, teach them poetry, and don’t be surprised when one day your grandchild repeats that poem or sing that song as he walks beside you along life’s path.

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First Light Illuminations

 

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Morning comes again, as I struggle, sleepy-eyed towards the kitchen. First light has just begun to creep over the mountains. It does little to encourage me to fix that cup of coffee and start another day. I find myself thinking of a different song most mornings, I wonder if it came from a dream I had during the night or just why that song would be in my head. It will always be a song from the 1970’s or late 1960’s, it seems. I think perhaps it expresses a longing to have lived my life differently, to avoid the pitfalls, to have more confidence that I did.

 

Today, the song dwelling in my half-asleep mind is “If you’re Going to San Francisco, be sure to wearr some flowers in your hair.” By the time I am busy waking people up, leaving home as the light becomes brighter, I have usually forgotten the song.

 

I see the turkeys crowded outside in my yard, waiting for their hand full of sunflower seeds that I always give them. I have noticed that they have a “pecking order”, like most birds do. The dominant birds will chase off, wings flaring , if necessary, the birds who have little status. Even if I throw the seeds in a wide arch, the dominant turkeys will chase away the birds with little status. I feel sorry for them, always trying to find a way to get some food to them.

 

I look at the turkeys the way I look at people. Often, the people who are respected, have status or, perhaps are feared are allowed privileges and perks that regular people are not. No matter how hard we try, if we don’t have a higher-up willing to help us, there is little chance for success.

 

Life has not been kind to me for a long time. I seem to always be on the outside looking in. Sometimes, I take naps on my son’s grave. When I find dimes, I see that as a sign that he is with me. I see those around me making their way through career moves, avoiding trouble, getting new houses, while life remains stagnant and unrewarding for me.

 

The love, companionship, the glimpses of happiness seem to evade me. That has been my world. A few happy years, or months followed by periods of time when I wonder what I have done to deserve them. Some people seem able to take the same recipe and have a “who cares” attitude, while I can’t seem overcome the pessimistic attitude that being a realist has given me.

 

I watch the butterflies flit from flower to flower. Darting, carefree amidst the summer gardens. Their lives are short, precarious, yet they go about their calling without worry or fear. A half grown rabbit freezes on the front lawn, hoping I don’t see it, or at least don’t see it as a meal. I goldfinch lands on a thistle and meets with its mate in an apple tree.

 

Life, I suppose holds different joys for each of us, just as it holds different sorrows. I watch nature outside my door and the song in my head returns. “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” I pluck a daisy and tuck it behind the golden curls covering my ear. I guess I will keep hoping, looking, dreaming of that life that I had wanted, even if I am no longer young and it is only a dream.

 

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