Sunday, October 13, 2019


Monarchs Abound
It's a sunny, cool day in Birdland, and we have passed the corner of the year bringing us to Autumn. My corner meadow is now dressed in fall colors of Goldenrod and the dotted lace of White Heath Asters. The bees like it. The small trees I intend to pollard are getting to be pruning size, and indeed, last year I cut the top off of the largest sycamore, hoping to get that nice rounded shape. Cottonwoods quake in the cool breeze. I'm not actually sure will take to this kind of pruning, but I figured I'd give it a try since they’ve come up so abundantly. Other trees I’m trying are mulberry (which take well to pollarding) and redbud (another experiment). I came out to the porch to feel the wind. I suppose it's time to turn off the air conditioner and open the windows to the autumn coolness. Next to me the Elephant Ears are shaking their heads slowly—back and forth, back and forth—enjoying the breeze too.
Sun Sets over the Corn
The beans are beginning to yellow, now the same color as the tassels on top of the cornfield to the east. The field to the west is a little further towards dry, the leaves just beginning to brown. I'm on the lookout for the Monarchs. They sometimes stop over here to rest in the neighbors' mulberry trees on our lane. When I was walking in the cemetery up the hill with my friend, Cate from Cincinnati, we caught sight of first one monarch, then another, then a dozen. They were fluttering around the trees on the edge of the old piney woods (which no longer holds many pineys, having been planted as a Christmas tree plot and never harvested. They, all but a few staunch holdouts, died one year after a bitter winter bracketed by a couple of summers of drought. It might have been the weather stress, or maybe they just lived out their natural life. The mass die-out of the pineys shows another failing of monocultures. A thousand trees planted in rows one summer by six enthusiastic kids may all die together seventy years later. A diversified forest—or farm—is the way to go.) But back to the monarchs. They were fluttering and lighting on the leaves, some of them folding their wings back to rest, hiding the bright colors to look like autumn-yellowed leaves. I told Cate about how they often stop here to rest up before their long migration. Or maybe they stop here every year, but I am only occasionally aware enough to notice. After visiting the family plots and meandering around the headstones, trying to read the inscriptions blurred by acid rain, we set off down the hill. We found another congregation of monarchs in the lane, but not as many as I have seen in years past. Maybe it was just the welcoming committee. I'll keep an eye out. But back, again, to the Pineys. (And this letter meanders like the chicken I'm watching in the yard, tail up, head down, walking and pecking after whatever catches her attention.) Despite its unnatural form, the Piney woods seemed magical to me: forty foot trees, green at the top, but brown underneath, soft cushion of needles, regular, curving rows that followed the curve of the terraces my great-granddad had put in on the sloping parts of the farm to protect the land from erosion. (After his death, the terraces were destroyed on the rest of the farm, but those in the piney woods were hidden, protected from the careless plow.) As a child, I used to go alone to climb up the ladder of branches in one of the pines on the edge of the plot, to sit high in the tree and watch what the wind blew over the western horizon. Nobody knew I was there, I guess, since I never got scolded for it. But if anyone bothered to look east from the house, they would see me sitting high in the tree, or maybe just a splotch of blue overalls, and, boy, would I have heard about it.
On first glance they look like yellowing leaves. Look closer.
Later, when we moved out to the farm, we began to cut our Christmas trees from the pineys. The kids would try to see from the ground, which tree was most promising, and Michael would fell the tree with his chainsaw. (Sometimes we would guess wrong and wind up with a lopsided tree, but we decorated it anyway.) The pines were so close together that often out tree would only fall partway before being caught in the arms of another. My husband would cut the angled trunk again, and sometimes again, before if would fall all the way to the ground. Then we would top the tree and drag it home.
Fly in Beauty; Congregate in Peace; Blessed Be

Thursday, October 3, 2019


Emerson and Minnie Mae in foreground
Big hens in back

In Birdland, we sit on the porch in the gentle drizzle. The roof keeps us from getting wet, but the chickens don’t seem to mind the rain, continuing their slow meander through the yard, digging and pecking.

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Rosie says, "Isn't it cheating to just link to the newspaper?"
I say, "Better link than not get it done."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


The Sturdy Susans that grow on my Path to Joy

If I tell you what my Saturday was like, you can probably guess what Today will be like. Yesterday for the first time, I got up early enough to go to the Master Gardeners' plant swap. The Extension puts it on every year at Forest Preserve Park, and usually my friend, Gayle, goes and brings me her extras. But for once, I got it into my calendar, and now I'll try to go every year. I even got Michael to come with me by promising him biscuits from town. My husband loves hot biscuits, which we never have at home, because carbs.
I got up and miraculously remembered and went out in my jammies to dig Nanny's peonies. Thirty years ago, I planted a short row of peonies behind the asparagus bed from my grandmother's yard. They bloom in May, generous blooms of deep burgundy, like pompons.
Nanny's Peonies
By now the flowers are long gone. Peonies need to be divided occasionally, and about ten years ago I went to Nancy's peony party in Indy. My friend was digging hers and we had a tiny plant swap at her house. I dug one of my bushes at the east end of the bed to trade for her light pink ones. I planted these in a line to border my flower trail, the one I call my "Path to Joy," the one that has now become a parade of Susans. At that time, I vowed to dig one plant every year to divide and spread, and that way keep my rootstock healthy and my bushes blooming. The next year I dug the second bush and used the new ones to lengthen my path. And after that? Well, I never dug them again until this week.
We arrived a little late (the swap starts at eight) and found the picnic tables at the venerable brick pavilion full of plants. We were assigned a number; the early birds get to choose first. I was number eighteen. Signs showed us which tables were for plants that like the sun and those that like the shade. There were also sections for garden tools and books. Gayle was already there, and we wandered the aisles. Here were bags full of Siberian Irises, those slender elegant flowers that I've hankered after since I saw them at my cousin's house thirty years ago. These were apparently dug up from Bryant Cottage in Bement, the historic meeting place where Lincoln and Douglas planned their famous debate. I definitely wanted some of those flowers, both elegant and historic.
Lucky Clover
The hostess released us one by one according to the numbers on our name tags. Meanwhile, she regaled us with garden-themed jokes and riddles while we waited our turns. (Why is the Incredible Hulk a good gardener? Gayle knew that one: He has a green thumb.) Even though my number was high, there were plenty of the Siberian Irises and other plants when my turn came around. After everyone had had a first pick, it was a free-for-all. We were told quite sternly, that all the plants had to be taken away at the end of the morning. I chose plants for my sunny paths and for Michael's shady woodland beds. He helped me fill the trunk of the car. There was even a lecture—hints about how to clean up your garden for fall.
Afterwards we went for our biscuits, and I mulled over how much I like a community event like that. It was a regular stone soup of a gathering. How did I dig just one peony bush, and come away with a carload of plants? And everybody seemed to be satisfied with their haul. It just goes to show that if we share our bounty with open hearted generosity, there will be plenty for everybody.
Monarch Hotel
Swap in Beauty; Sow in Peace; Blessed Be

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


Changes in the Letters
Birdland is evolving as always. I got lazy posting on this blog when I realized that the News Gazette made these letters available electronically. Then I migrated to Instagram (@birdlandletters) and Twitter (also @birdlandletters).

But my column took a hit (as did most of the country's newspapers) with the tariffs (first on Canadian newsprint and then on aluminum). The News Gazette cut most of us columnists down from weekly to twice a month, so readers who depended on a link in my Twitter to get their dose of Birdland would only get to read half of the columns.

I'm going to try to keep up by posting every week (and even catch up a little, by back-posting some old columns) but it won't be easy to add one more little task to my weekly routine. You can help me by letting me know (through comments here, or liking when I post links on social media) that you are reading these letters.

You can also help by joining in to keep our local papers afloat. Consider subscribing to the Piatt County Journal Republican (which does still publish the letters each week) or the News Gazette. You can support Birdland and a Free(ish) Press!

Monday, September 16, 2019


Today in Birdland it's sunny and cool. Clouds bounce in a blue sky and Black-Eyed Susans nod with the breezes that blow through the yard. The beans have set on, and the wind ripples the lovely green fields. All this belies the urgency our planet is under.
Lullaby of Birdland Day Lily, a gift
from Five Acres Farm Day Lilies
A few years ago, while we were backpacking in the Cascades, some wildfires were burning in British Columbia. You might think fires one hundred-fifty miles or more away would be of no consequence to a couple of hikers at Dorothy Lake, but this is when we discovered first-hand that smoke doesn't recognize international borders. Each day on the trail was a little hazier. By the third day, the pristine forest of pines across the lake was heavily blurred by
Camping in the Cascades
the smoke, and we could smell it in the air. I worried a lot then, not so much about escaping a forest fire, since we were camped on the shore of a large body of water, but about the effects of the smoke on Michael's lungs. My husband is prone to allergies, and I could tell the dense air was getting to him.
As I write this, we hear news that our planet is burning on both ends. USA today reports that Arctic wildfires are made more serious because of hotter summer temperatures. They have now ignited the layers of peat in the ground in some places. This is grim because, unlike a wood fire that burns quickly through its fuel, peat (which is accumulated layers of partly decayed vegetable matter—coal before it becomes coal) smolders for days, weeks, or months, and releases a lot of stored carbon, creating a terrible cycle (more greenhouse gasses à more trapped heat à more fires). The International Union for the Conservation of Nature tells us that peatlands are one of our most valuable planetary ecosystems, and one of the most efficient ways the planet stores carbon. They cite lack of awareness of the importance of peatlands as leading to damage and overexploitation (drainage of peat bogs, conversion to agricultural lands, burning for fuel). And now Arctic peatlands are on fire.
Tiny Toad on Birdland Pond
In the Southern Hemisphere, the Amazon Rainforest is burning. Is it a cliché to say that the Amazon Rainforest makes up the lungs or our planet? We know that oxygen comes from plants, and the plants in the Amazon Rainforest are gigantic factories of oxygen, since they don't have to shut down for winter like we do here in Birdland. If one of our biggest producers of the air we breathe are in trouble, so are we. Reuters reports that a record number of fires are burning in the Amazon (over 73,000, and 83% more than last year). CNN reports that many of these fires are intentionally set by ranchers and loggers to clear land for raising cattle, which shows that our consumption of beef is specifically linked to this butchery of one of our most important planetary resources. Honestly, it frightens me, but we need to be responsible with our fears. If our fears let us throw up our hands and say, “Oh well, if the world is going to burn, what difference does my little carbon footprint make? I’ll go ahead and order that double cheeseburger,” then we are being very selfish. We can choose to turn our fears inside-out like a sock to find hopes and use them to take positive action.
On the scale of the Arctic and the Amazon rainforest, our individual actions might not seem to matter much, so why not add them together by supporting groups that can actually make a difference? CBS News gives us a list of organizations that Charity Navigator rates highly based on "financial health, transparency and accountability." They are,,, The World Economic Forum lists ways we can help conserve the polar ice in the Arctic at Three Ways You Can Save Arctic Ice. Please join me in checking out these sites to educate ourselves on these climate disasters. When the Notre-Dame Cathedral caught fire, the world stepped up to donate money. Let's do the same for these burning ecosystems. The bees and the birds and the bouncing Susans of Birdland will thank us.
Gather in Beauty; Support Peace; Blessed Be