A Roll in the Hay

Today’s post comes from Clyde in Mankato.

I know, I was an English teacher and all that, but I am really far more visually oriented than word-oriented. I opened at random a book called The Prairie World by David F. Costello. I read this description, and until I came to the key words, which I have left blank below, I had no idea what plant he was describing:

If you examine a stem closely, you will see that the leaves alternate in opposite directions from the stem, and only one leaf grows from the node. The leaf itself consists of two parts: the sheath which forms tube around the stem, and is split its full length; and the blade, which is wide and often flat but nearly always elongated. The portion of the leaf at the junction of the blade and sheath is called the collar. The mebranous or hairy structures where the base of the blade touches the stem is called the ligule. This structure, which varies greatly among different _____s, is useful in their identification. It keeps water from flowing inside the sheath where fungi might grow. Some _____s have appendages, one on either side of the base of the blade, known as auricles . . . As the ______ continues its seasonal growth it produces new stems from buds that develop from old stem bases near the surface of the ground . . .”

Do you recognize that plant? We all know it well. But we seldom look at it at such close range. I had a colleague who taught biology who tried to get students to notice, to look, to see at both the close range and the larger picture; to see patterns, to see differences and similarities and to relish the wonder of nature. I tired to teach essentially the same thing about reading and literature.

Costello is describing grass. Just grass, grown taller than we let it grow in our cultured yards. The technical jargon does not help, it never does, except to the those in the inner circle of the world circumscribed by the given jargon.  But since every June of my childhood was driven by a high concern for grass, or hay as farmers call it in full form, I should recognize it by any description. I used to lie in it, just to relax in the sun, to rest with my dog by my side, to look up at the clouds drifting across the sky on their way to Lake Superior.

Somehow I did not Mowingroll over and look carefully at the intricacy of a single plant of grass. In the larger picture, driven by the daily details, a biology teacher and an English teacher are teaching many of the same skills.

Praises be for the small and simple yet wonder-filled things which sustain us heart, body, and soul.

Are you a good looker?

Marital Ballistics

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota.

We live on a very “married” block/street.  It was that way when we moved here in 1988 and it remains the same, although “married” status has changed to “widowed” for a couple of the residents. Of the twelve houses that line both sides of the street on our block, ten are owned by couples and two by widows. There has been very little turnover as well.  Gary and Sue, Ken and Rhonda, Elsie and Leonard,  the Maershbeckers, the Knopics, the Lenos, the Kovashes, the Dvoraks, and us have lived quietly and politely close to one another for more than two decades, (but not too close), admiring each other’s lawns, vehicles, gardens , flowers, and children, visiting in a neighborly way, keeping mostly to ourselves but knowing lots of things  about all the others while pretending to mind our own business.

It used to be that the sight of a police car on the block signaled that someone had found a stray dog and had called the city to come and take the animal home. Things got more dramatic a couple of years ago when Ludwig and Martha died. They were a sweet old couple with thick Czech accents who lived directly across the street from us. The Knopics, who lived a few houses south, bought Ludwig and Martha’s home and sold their home to a couple in their late 30’s, oil field people with an aggressive Dachshund and no children.  They are not a quiet couple. They are heavy drinkers who argue and taunt each other loudly and publicly in the front yard, and who have visits from the police.  He has been in the local paper in the District Court proceedings, convicted of simple assault. He always ends up back home and then we see them washing their vehicles, trimming the hedges and mowing the lawn as though nothing has happened.

It has been quite a while since the police have been called or he has shown up in the paper. I was tickled the other day to see them in their front yard, each with a lariat,  roping a horned metal steer head.  They looked really happy and were encouraging and giving pointers to each other.  I wondered if they were  participating in team roping, which is a pretty popular sport out here. If so, I can’t think of a more appropriate activity for a heavy drinking couple who ends up in slugfests.  If you are going to win you have to be sober and you have to communicate well with your partner.  Maybe they can refine their technique by trying to rope the Dachshund. I don’t do marital therapy, but if I did, I might recommend lassoes  and metal steer heads as tools to find marital bliss.

What sort of hobby helps keep the peace at home?

My Political Journey

Header Image: Dwight D. Eisenhower Library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

My first political act came in 1952. I was ten. I sat on a city curb waiting for the appearance of the famous man who would soon be running for president. In my right hand I clutched a pennant that proclaimed “I Like Ike.”

And I did. Who wouldn’t like the avuncular, smiling war hero who had defeated the mighty German army? My parents were conservative Republicans. And, really, they didn’t have much of a choice. All their friends were Republican. My dad’s boss was Republican, which alone would have settled the issue for us. Everyone knows your political affiliation in a small town, and only a fool would endorse what his boss considered the “wrong” party.

My father, always the storyteller, filled my young ears with spooky images of Democrats. He told me Franklin Roosevelt allowed the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor to happen so the US would have to enter the war. Dad rejected Roosevelt’s “socialistic” economic policies. As poorly as my father regarded FDR, he had a much lower opinion of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was much too outspoken for a woman, and her embrace of political outcasts made him queasy.

While I considered myself a Republican until I went to college, it didn’t take long for the GOP to lose my vote. In my first week on campus, my dormitory fellows and I watched Richard Nixon and John Kennedy debate on television. To my eyes, Richard Nixon looked shifty and mired in the past. JFK seemed young, vigorous and sophisticated.

In that debate, Kennedy suggested the Republicans had allowed the Soviet Union to get ahead of the US in missile design. That charge came up weeks later during the beauty pageant to pick Miss Grinnell, our candidate in the Miss America contest. A pretty blonde in a swimsuit was asked her opinion of “the missile gap.” “This country could not possibly be behind,” she said, adding “And I’m sure we’ll catch up real soon.”

By the time I left college, I knew my core values defined me as a progressive, somewhere to the left of the Democratic party mainstream. And then Vietnam happened. Night after night, I shook with rage as spokesmen for Lyndon Johnson’s government went before television cameras to lie about the war. For me, the Vietnamese war was a radicalizing event that lasted eleven years.

I haven’t changed my basic convictions much in the decades since the US fled Vietnam in panic. I was ambivalent about the first Gulf War but unequivocally hated the second. And yet the passing years have made me relatively humble. I no longer burn with self righteous conviction on any issue. I describe my political affiliation now as “progressive,” whatever that means. The Democratic Party lost my heart long ago by neglecting common folks, choosing instead to cater to the wealthy, as if the other party weren’t already shamelessly sucking up to the most privileged sector of this society. I vote for Democrats because they are the least objectionable of the alternatives I find on ballots. I dream of a leader who would seriously address social and economic injustice. I yearn for a leader who will actually reverse the abuse we continue to heap on our environment. But I’m not holding my breath.

Oddly enough, I have had a dream featuring almost every president to hold office in my lifetime. In my Clinton dream I told him how deeply he had disappointed me. In a recent dream, a president chased me through a spooky Victorian mansion, shooting at me with a pistol. I wasn’t concerned, though. I remember thinking, “I’m good. That’s only George Bush trying to kill me!” My favorite presidential dream featured a conversation I had with Jimmy Carter. As we spoke, Carter’s face sort of melted, and right before my eyes he morphed into Eleanor Roosevelt. I remember thinking, “Gee, Dad was right all along. Jimmy Carter is just Eleanor Roosevelt come back to haunt him again!”

What has your political journey been?

End of Sumner

Today’s post comes from Barbra in Robinsdail

It IS a tad lait for these fotos of the State Phair, but I have these grate Phair Fotos sent to me by Linda, Verily Sherrilee, Anna, and madislandgirl, plus one or too of my ohm.

I was of coarse going to sand them immediately to Dale with a guessed post, but got sidetrack tapped. Sumner’s almost gown and winter’s cumin on, witch just doesn’t seem write as the grrass is still grreen.

What part of Summer do you miss the most, now that it’s gone? What do you look forward to about Fall and Winter?  (See if you can insert a few “typos” into your reply.)

Imaginary Swamp Tryst

Today’s post comes from Clyde in Mankato

It’s a new-fangled sort of park which sits upon an ancient piece of ground. North Creek Park in Bothel Washington has a boardwalk raised over the swamp. You are there to see a biome closer, perhaps, to The Creation—however you envision that Creation—than the higher ground around the swamp, land which is now the field for suburban one-upsmanship of house, job, child, and toy.

The swamp too is also a competitive field, such as among the ducks into whose spring boudoirs you almost step. Their one-upsmanship is for territory, nesting material, food, and social superiority.

Pix 1

If you are alone when you meet someone who is also alone on the narrow plastic wood pathway, you must make a decision. You can keep silence by pretending to be rapt in the reeds around you and the murky water seeping slowly north under your feet. Or you can talk to the person who passes you by. This stranger and you will intrude in each other’s space for several more seconds than when two strangers pass on the street. Here you walk slowly. You do not come here to be in a hurry. Those in a hurry have other places they must be, which is not to say that those who frequent the swamp are not driven here by a need as well.

Pix 2

I can imagine two people who have met in this way several times until they now expect the other to be on the walkway. Perhaps he is old, wearing bib overalls and heavy shoes, pushing his walker, stopping frequently to sit on the seat of his walker, either from weariness or for new appreciation of a swamp, swamps having been classified for most of his life as wasted ground to be converted to solid land, to serve as yet another field of human one-upsmanship.

Perhaps she is young, stopping often to rid herself of the burdensome effects of her early morning shift at a lunch counter, where she wheedles small tips from people tired from a night shift or still not awake in preparation for a stint of money-earning. After her walk through the swamp she will head to UW-Bothel, where the one-upsmanship of the classroom will prepare her for an adult life of one-upsmanship.

The first time they pass, they ignore each other, or rather she ignores him. The second time she nods at him sitting on his walker. The third time he reads her waitress name tag aloud. “Tish,” he says, “sounds like air coming from an inner tube.” The fourth time he greets her with the sound of air escaping between his tongue and upper teeth. When he does it the fifth time, she realizes it is a tease. Wondering where he gets overalls that round in the middle and short in th legs, she decides to call him Bibs, which tickles his fancy, as does spending even a few seconds with an attractive young woman sixty years his junior.

At the sixth meeting he is sitting on his walker by the one bench along the walkway. She takes the hint for a minute or two. They discuss the nature around them. At the seventh meeting she brings a thermos of coffee for them to share. They discuss where his life has been and where hers is going.

By the twentieth meeting they have explained to each other why they meet, their need for human contact unmotivated by any purpose other than what neither would call love, but which is love indeed.

Sometimes they hold hands lightly, unself-consciously while they talk. Sometimes they say few words. Sometimes one or the other does not appear for their tryst. Neither would ask why. They would now have trust. Their favorite topic would be the nature which has drawn them, not the life that has driven them here. Neither would acknowledge passersby, such as the gimpy old white-bearded man taking pictures which he would perhaps use to paint pastels.

Pix 3

One day it would end. She would graduate and move for a job or for a young man whom she also loves. He might one day not appear; she would not know he had died. Since she knows him only as Bibs, she would not recognize his obituary.

But the swamp would not noticed their comings and goings. The swamp would endure—if human one-upsmanship over Creation can resist the urge to fill it in.

Do you talk to strangers?

Chores and the Great Depression

Today’s post comes from Jacque.

I am the first to admit that my life growing up was, well, unusual. I came from thrifty, hardworking, somewhat eccentric people. My parents were the first people in their families to go to college and graduate with 4 year degrees. Mom and Dad grew up in the Great Depression on farms where their frugal parents survived by using things up, patching, repairing, and saving money. Every one pitched in to help with family chores. They passed this on in their parenting. We had chores. We saved money.

My siblings and I grew up bearing a lot of responsibility given our young ages. Mom worked outside the home as a teacher during a time when Mom’s usually stayed home to care for the family. Our Dad stayed home with us because his illness, Multiple Sclerosis limited his life.   This arrangement demanded that we all pitch in for the common good of our family. We helped with Dad’s care, with cooking, cleaning, and gardening.

Now, in our adulthood, my brother, sister and I gather and regale ourselves (and any one who will listen) with the tales of our growing up, our chores, our travel stories, and our family’s attempts to save a buck. We roar with laughter at our own stories.  Our kids, now grown-ups, too, are a bit tired of these stories.  So we always seek new victims to listen to them, like, say, Baboons!

This year for Mother’s Day, my brother, sister and I went out with our Mom, now 87 years old, for supper. We teased her a bit, which she loves.   We made 2 lists, reflecting our unusual life together: our chores and our family methods of stretching a penny.  Today you get List #1, Our Chores. Items 1-3 are pretty standard stuff. Item 4 starts to stretch the limits, of well, normal? Of reliving the Geat Depression

Our Chores

  1. Saturday mornings clean the house. I vacuumed, my sister dusted, my brother emptied the garbage and goofed off. NO CARTOONS. This really meant that the moment Mom went grocery shopping, we turned on the TV. Dad never told. My sister and I posted our brother at the window to watch for Mom’s car so we could turn it off in time to stay out of trouble. We cleaned AND watched cartoons.
  2. Set the table before a meal.
  3. Often we cooked the meal.
  4. Wash and dry dishes after each meal.
  5. Light dad’s pipe when requested. Knock the old ashes out, clean it with a pipe cleaner, refill.   Do not pack too hard or it won’t light easily, then the match will burn your finger.
  6. Make dad’s coffee in an old-fashioned stove top drip coffeemaker which loaded the grounds in the bottom of the upper part. We had to pour boiling hot water from the bottom carafe into the upper part which fed the hot water through the grounds back into the bottom carafe. I learned to do this at age 9. Pour the coffee. Put Dad’s straw in it and place it where he could drink it.
  7. When my diabetic Grandpa lived with us, it was my job to watch him for symptoms of insulin shock. If he showed symptoms, I ran to the refrigerator, poured a glass of orange juice and assisted him in getting it down his throat. (I was 9 years old at the time)
  8. Get dad his urinal, run it to the bathroom, empty it, rinse it, and flush.
  9. Gather food scraps and take them to compost pile.
  10. Operate washer and dryer. Fold clothes. “Sprinkle” clothes which would need ironing, then iron them.

This list looks like we were slackers compared to Mom’s list of childhood chores, which consisted of tasks such as milk cows, churn butter, clean out the barn, so it is all relative I guess. The Great Depression really did influence our experiences in the 1950’s and 60’s despite its long demise.

Did you re-experience the Great Depression in your childhood?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,601 other followers

%d bloggers like this: