Tuesday, September 25, 2012

First RV Overnight September 25

Off on our first adventure

It is 10 PM and I am feeling relaxed.  A couple drinks of whisky, a full day of travel and sunshine, an evening of campfire and woodsmoke and making friends with the folks in the next space.  They are here to get married—two couples marrying tomorrow afternoon at the scenic overlook at Pike’s Peak State Park.  
Lovely day of travel, up to Waukon to interview veterinarian “Doc Holliday” for Acres USA.  So, we took to the Great River Road—the long way there, but it you can’t take the scenic route, what’s an RV for?

The weather:  perfect.  Seventy degrees, relatively dry, sunny with scattered clouds.  The leaves of autumn beginning to turn, growing more brilliant the farther north we get. 
Autumn’s peaking shyly at first, orange, yellow, pink, among the green.

A crane along the backwaters of the Maquoketa River near its confluence with the Mississippi.

Cornstalks, yellow-brown, stand a patient crowd awaiting harvest in whispering fields.

Lush meanders, river-blue, trace sparkling paths amid the woods.  Dancing butterflies, yellow sprites flutter over grasses still of green.  Fluff, the stuff of next year’s flowers drifts in search of purchase.

I sensed right away when we embarked that this trip will give me the hope I need to get through this next month.  I already feel free, relieved, happy.  I actually feel like writing, like making poetry, like capturing images in words or “on film.” 

We hadn’t intended it, but we accidentally crossed the very high, very narrow, blue bridge into at Sabula into Illinois.  So rather than go back across, we merely continued north up the Illinois side, through the tidy little town of Hanover (“Mallard Capital of the World”), and across the idyllic Apple River and into Galena.

It was fun to visit Galena, though, since it figured so prominently in my novel, The Scrivener’s Tale.  Galena itself is full of ghosts.  Just a brief walk down the street there triggered my psychic impressions.  I wrote in my jotting journal,

“Haunted as Jerome [AZ].  Indians in the hills still—lights at night, local citizens often see unexplained balls of light in the trees.  Civil war conflict?  Indian fighting—hand-to-hand, tomahawk-style.  Glowering spirits, no airy-fairy here, but heavy, dense,  town sits on lead and iron.”

After Galena, we traveled through little towns like Garnalillo—an unlikely name in an area full of German monikers—where we lunched at the Thoma Dairy Bar CafĂ©, one of those places where the real America lives, or the once-idealized America lives on.

Thoma Cafe
Once in Waukon I met with Holliday, then we proceeded to Pike’s Peak.

We arrived after dark, so we haven’t seen the total beauty of this place, but I can feel it.  This is a sacred place and I am happy to see it protected as a park. We are just a couple of miles downriver from the Effigy Mounds National Monument, but I know now why the Indians built their worshipful places here. 

The town of Marquette—at the foot of Pike’s Peak State Park is delightful, too, like Galena but not as touristy.  The Peak itself is named after the same man—Zebulon Pike—as the Pike’s Peak in Colorado, both places being part of his explorations of the west. 

I captured a rare moment on camera--that perfect sunset moment and it felt like dessert after a fabulous meal.


I think I will don my sneakers and go for a walk in the three-quarters moonlight, look at the stars and maybe find the scenic overlook. 

Scenic Overlook north of Galena, Iowa side of Mississippi

Monday, September 24, 2012

First RV Excursion

Tomorrow is our first little toodle in the RV. Today our very helpful neighbor Fritz came by and showed us how the propane, water, generator, plumbing, etc. all works, for which we are very grateful.

So, we are headed to northeastern Iowa to the town of Waukon, where I am going to interview Dr. Richard Holliday, a holistic veterinarian of some renown for Acres USA.  “Doc” was first interviewed by Acres in 1974—yes, that’s ’74, as in That 70’s Show. 
Between here and there are a couple of stops:  a bookstore in Dubuque to promote Psycards, and a visit to Effigy Mounds.  Then on to Waukon, find a nice campground nearby, visit Decorah the next day for another bookstore, then home at our leisure—probably on back roads, which are always more interesting.  I remembered to bring all the batteries for the digital camera and digital recorder. 

Our maiden voyage, so to speak.  Just an overnighter, but I’m certain we will learn a lot about what to do and what NOT to do in the RV.  Let’s hope the adventure is simply one of fun and learning and not hard lessons or the kind of adventure that a friend of mine called simply, “bad planning.” (Thanks, Dave!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Digging up the garden

Birds chirping in such voluminous quantity that they sound like rushing waters, a veritable cascade, waterfall of sound.  Hundreds of them clustered in two oak trees across the street, the trees alive with song.

A small woodpecker tap-tap-taps his way to dinner above my head.  I have my hands in dirt, holding the rhizomes of lilies—daylilies, oriental lilies, who-knows-what lilies.  I hold in my hands life, the life of a plant.  They are tired, crowded and none of them bloomed this year.  It was too hot too soon for me to do any work of significance in the garden. Now it is fall, and almost too hot but not quite, so I am forking them up from the ground where they have grown together so densely I can barely insert the fork, to separate them from one another and give them a chance at new flowering life next year in my daughter’s garden.

Blithely, I tear them apart, thumping them on the brick walkway to shake loose the dirt.  This does not hurt them; instead it stimulates them to grow, to make leaves to drink in the sunshine that will give them the power to bloom.  Ah, the sexuality of plants!  Make love to the sun and give birth to flowers. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The down side of down-sizing

There was a time when I moved eight times in two years.  I was adept at packing, sorting, deciding what to keep and what could go.  This was followed by a period of relative stability—five years in one house.  Then, the crumbling of a marriage, a family, my life, my home, and the ensuing years of uncertainty, shifting sands, and homelessness off and on.

Then here, to this place, this house I bought when everyone told me I couldn’t buy a house (by standard wisdom, they were right, but I managed to buy one anyway).  Here, for thirteen years, we have lived and loved, laughed and lamented, struggled and studied. Here I served my country as a VISTA volunteer, with the American Red Cross during the year of 9/11, obtained four college degrees as I promised myself, and found a place to express who I wanted to be.  Here I rediscovered and redefined myself, and liked what I found and who I have become.  This is the site of my redemption, my renewal.

Now, packing and sorting is nearly a forgotten art.  And I am not moving “up” in a way that will give me more space, or a place to hoard my memories.  We are moving into an RV, a downsizing of literal proportions that, for me, has its own down-side.  Where will I put the books waiting in line to be read?  Where will I store the files I am using to write the articles, the book, the novel, the stories I am currently working or hope to work on soon?  I can’t possibly take everything I will need for any extended period of time—like a year or two.  I can, of course, store it in such a way that I can return to my “well” of goods and documents to replenish a supply, or swap out old and no-longer-needed for what is needed today. 

In this process, I have found that initially there is sorting and packing—say, in one room—then there is more sorting and packing.  Eventually my mind/spirit/knowingness comes back around to the first room, only to discover I can trim even more.  It is a learning process that is occurring more in my mind than anywhere else.  It is also a process of grieving and letting go—of the cats, the garden, the books.  It is a process of blessing and thanking and releasing, then grieving anew, but with less vigor.  Revisit again another day and there is still blessing and thanking and releasing, but the grief is passing, fading in a fit and seeming sort of way.

Today, I packed part of the bedroom—the books that have resided there, some for many years.  And I found that some of the books and things that I kept the last time I moved no longer had any value to me in a personal way.  I’m discarding more than I ever thought possible. And it is surprisingly painless.

Still, there are the books I want to read, but I can’t possibly take them all with me. So, I pack them away in carefully and thoroughly labeled boxes, sensing that when the time comes to unpack them in a new home—wherever that may be—there will still be something to look forward to, still new things and ideas savor and relish, things I will be glad I kept, but also glad I didn’t drag along with me like ankle weights. 

I am grateful, too, that this process of leaving here has taken so long.  It has given me time to process it, to assimilate the idea and the emotions, so that it is not a trauma as so many other changes have been in my life.  Six weeks left, and though there is anxiety about the deadline looming, there is a sense of purpose and control as well and I know that if I listen to myself, trust myself, my feelings, my urges to keep and do and toss and don’t, that all will be well and I will have grown in new and unexpected ways.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Leaving the Land a Little Better Off

I am reading a little-known environmental/farming book called Pleasant Valley, written by a quite prolific writer, Louis Bromfield in 1943.  In it, like Aldo Leopold, he talks about the land he has purchased and although I am only to chapter five, I see where he is going.  He writes:

“I knew in my heart that we as a nation were already much further along the path to destruction than most people knew.  What we needed was a new kind of pioneer, not the sort which cut down the forests and burned off the prairies and raped the land, but pioneers who created new forests and healed and restored the richness of the country…I had a foolish idea that I wanted to be one of that new race of pioneers.”

This give rise to thoughts about my own impact on my land—on this city lot on which I have lived and gardened these past thirteen years.  I like to think I have been a bit of a pioneer here, too.  I have never used one pesticide or herbicide here, except those organic cures like beer for slugs or tobacco juice spray for the plants.  I compost as much as possible, but in a lazy way.  I don’t turn or move my compost, just pack it into compost cages I have in various places in the yard, where it rots or feeds the squirrels as nature decides until the bottoms of the cages yield loose, dark brown, rich new compost-y soil, usually a year or two.  Then I use that soil to repot my houseplants, or to mix with the really strong compost I buy from the City of Davenport’s recycling center to top-dress the garden beds. 

I have made the place into a backyard wildlife habitat.  Everywhere there are birdhouses and niches for wildlife.  We have all sorts of songbirds, crows and ravens and starlings, and even once a red-tailed hawk for a couple of weeks.  We have seen raccoons, and oppossums, chipmunks, snakes, and the ubiquitous squirrel in many colors.

Wildlife habitat sign and daylilies at the base of an oak.

 I planted native flowers in the front where there is sun, and planted understory trees beneath our oaks.  I have added peonies and hostas and other shade-lovers to this oak-guarded property, and I have allowed the back to return (or at least begin its return) to its natural woodland state.  As a result I get lovely woodland flowers each spring, wild roses, and wild strawberries.

I have added my own hand to it, too, with tulips and daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths.  For summer color I have daylilies and Asiatic lilies and Oriental lilies (though I never really learned the difference).  They are crowded now and not flowering as they once did, but I am unable to garden as much as the summers have grown hotter and hotter.

The American redbuds (“Clara Barton,” planted in 2001 when I was a Red Cross Vista volunteer) I planted are now respectable tree-size, and the lilac has swollen to dominate the southeast corner and soars at least twelve feet.  It is too high now for me to even prune anymore. 

I have added groundcovers for the hillside on the south side, to prevent too-rapid runoff that contributes to downstream flooding.  I have ignored the lawn in favor of the creeping charlie, which I think smells better than grass when you mow it, and it has nice little purple flowers in the spring.  I allowed the mint to run rampant, too, and for a few years I had a lovely harvest of mint throughout the summer and fall.  Now, the heat and the drought have defeated even the indefatigable and invasive mint. 

I shall be sad to leave this garden, these trees I have loved so dearly, the Mother Oak in the front and all her sisters, which still, I believe, mourn their missing member that was removed from the backyard some years before we bought the place, and is marked now by a never-fillable sinkhole. 

Instead of concrete walkways, I laid down old screen doors found in an alley and filled them with wood chips I got from a tree-trimming service.  They were glad to dump the chips in my yard, rather than pay to have them disposed of at the recycling center.  So I helped that small business save money and got my mulch for free.  The screen doors placed in this way formed natural and soft walkways, which I directed carefully around the sinkhole grave of the fallen oak.  They lead back into the woodland and wander beneath the magnificent magnolia that puts forth such robust blooms in the spring that by May the back yard looks as though it is covered with giant rose petals as the magnolia blossoms drop.  Enormous pink velvet rose petals. 

Also in May, the lilies of the valley hug the foundation of the house and put forth their tiny delicate white bells that give off such a sweet and subtle fragrance.  In the front, I have placed a bench, now falling apart that I loved to sit on and survey my garden, watch the sunlight dapple its way through the oak canopy that towers over the green roof of the little yellow cottage that has been my home. 

Yes, I am sad to leave.  But I hope that I have left it a better place.  That I have somehow restored a bit of the land’s original dignity and added some aesthetic enhancements that do no harm.  I can only hope now that whoever attains the place at auction will love it and belong here as much as I have.  I leave it in the care of the grand old oak guardians who watched over it before I came and I hope will continue to do so long after I am gone.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Screaming in the Oak

So I'm sitting indoors, with the a/c on, all the doors and windows closed, watching one of my paranormal shows and I hear a sound outside. Now, in my neighborhood, I am used to all sorts of wild sounds, including gunshots, but this---this was different. It was a kind of screaming, but not human screaming. There was a chuff-chuff sound, then screeching, screeching, really loud.

I ran to the front door to see what was going on in my front yard. Despite the porch light I saw nothing, but this unearthly, inhuman, terrifying screeching was coming from the "mother" oak tree in the front of the house. It sounded like a monkey being torn limb from limb by some predatory bird. I grabbed my flashlight and tried to shine it up into the tree, but saw nothing.

Then I heard things fall and what I thought was the sound of something running. Because it was only semi-lit and my vision is not good, I kind of freaked that something might be running toward me--either predator or prey, but that it might be dangerous. And yes, for just one-tenth of one second, I was scared it might be something demonic.

I ran back into the house and turned up the outside lights, hollering at Rick to get UP! off the couch and come hear this. I wanted validation that I wasn't imagining it.

Finally he got up and got his flashlight and pinpointed the eyes of two raccoons in our oak tree--apparently they had been mating! After a Google search, I learned that raccoons mating is a terrible screaming affair, but it was certainly one I had never heard before! Scared the hell out of me.

Well, now I know. Even when something sounds preternatural, it isn't necessarily anything outside of nature. One must strive to keep a cool head. On my behalf, I may have run, but I didn't scream.