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Thursday, May 18, 2023

Feeding Body and Soul

Leelanau morning in May

Coming from one life back to another, from southeast Arizona to northern Michigan, or Cochise County to Leelanau County if you prefer (as I often do) -- however it's described, re-entry makes for a bumpy ride. That's especially true now since, like the drive of over 2,000 miles, it’s basically something I do alone. My dog Sunny seems undisturbed by change, though, as happy in her Michigan farmyard as she was in the high desert, and her equilibrium contributes to my own. 

Happy girl!

House and yard claimed my attention immediately. With the arrival of my lost wallet from Logan, New Mexico this week, where some anonymous good Samaritan turned it in to the police department, it was possible for me to take up once more some of the business aspects of life, earlier delayed.


Now my calendar bristles with appointments and dates (doctor, dentist, veterinarian, service calls, deadlines), while necessary spring cleaning goes forward inch by inch, it seems, a very gradual reclaiming of indoor living space, my progress all the more slow and gradual because our weather has been (except for cold nights and frosty mornings) idyllic for over a week now. Sunshine every day and blossoms all around contribute to my natural preference for outdoor work, and thus planting and moving plants (digging up volunteer violets for a border to keep down total costs of new plants for the summer), mowing grass, raking thatch away from an unmowed area I will seed with wildflowers, spreading compost and mulch, and not neglecting my always-ongoing battle against autumn olive makes for busy days and good sleep. Taking rugs and other indoor items outdoors to clean them in the open air is my way of doing as much housework as possible outdoors.

But I jumped the gun, and those little okra plants were frost-killed.

Attacking one very large autumn olive that somehow escaped last year’s professional clearing, I was horrified to find an advance platoon of the dreaded garlic mustard! Pulling up the invaders by their roots and hanging them on the severed branches of autumn olive (so as not to give them a chance to re-root) gave great satisfaction, because heaven forbid that garlic mustard gets a grip here on my watch! Look, below, at what it’s done on M-22 north of Leland. Either autumn olive or garlic mustard could take over the entire county if not checked, as each has done with smaller areas, so imagine what both together could do, laying waste to our native wildflowers and grasses.

Unwanted autumn olive festooned with unwanted garlic mustard

Garlic mustard unchecked along M-22. Horrors!

It crowds out everything else.

(And in the foregoing, I see once again my love for the present participle: coming, planting, mowing, cleaning, attacking, hanging, etc. Do you have a favorite part of speech?)


Dog responsibilities, too, are great outdoors time. Sunny needs to be outdoors, to exercise her body and mind and to explore -- physical and mental stimulation – and I need it, too, so a morning walk along the farm lane between orchard and woods leads us into the woods and eventually out again. Our country world is different every day, always with fresh wonders for me to see and for her to smell. Here is the sequence of one morning's walk, beginning with elderberry blossoming by the edge of the woods.

Into the woods --

-- and out the other end.

Next week I’ll begin at last to move toward a re-opening of my bookstore, with my goal to accomplish that re-opening before Memorial Day, fast approaching. Oh, why does the merry month of May have to speed by so relentlessly? Already the short-lived pointillist phase of the trees’ greening is past....

As was the case in my last post, when bedtime rolls around I am still taking up what to me are comfort books, the literary equivalent of comfort food. Most recently my choice was Harlan Hubbard’s Payne Hollow, his reflections on the life he and Anna made on the bank of the Ohio River after the years of drifting on their shantyboat down the Ohio and the Mississippi to Louisiana. Harlan saw their shore life as an extension and continuation of their shantyboat existence: 


…[W]e still regard ourselves as shantyboaters even though our home is a house on shore instead of a boat….


In the passage above, he is comparing his life with Anna to that lived by another shantyboater in the neighborhood, the last real “riverman” in the neighborhood, and he concludes that he and Anna “are closer to the river than Bill ever was,” because they chose the life rather than having been born into it. I pause there and want to say to Harlan that it doesn’t have to be a contest, that there are different ways to love and live in a place. Of course, he is gone now, and argument is beside the point, anyway, because he and Anna made a beautiful life together. 


On many days the work continues as long as the light lasts. On this summer evening, however, I am at rest, having done all the work that this day required, and some for which no demand is ever made. Withdrawal from all activity and a thoughtful looking about round out a day, as they do a life, in a manner which harmonizes with the sunset.


What was that work “for which no demand is ever made”? For me, it is gardening, work not imposed on me by life but which feeds my soul. Harlan gardened as I do, the quiet way, without power tools, and in winter he cut wood with hand tools, in no hurry, just enjoying the work. He also, however, made paintings and wrote books.


People are always curious about others’ ways of supporting a country life financially. I have my bookstore. Harlan and Anna had income (“passive income,” I’ve just learned that it’s called) from the rental of his late mother’s house. Harlan built the stone fireplace in that Kentucky house, and over the fireplace today hangs a David Grath painting. With all he and Harlan had in common, David was so happy about that!

Harlan & Anna's houseboat on the Ohio River, painted by HH

We all pay our rent in the universe differently. It makes me happy to think that the Artist was able to do so with work that fed his soul and that we were blessed to have so many years of life together.

David Grath's houseboat & rowing skiff, Leland River, Leland


Karen Casebeer said...

Such a beautiful time with so much to do. I too wish May didn't pass by so fast. Beautiful images and commentary, Pamela. Thank you.

P. J. Grath said...

I don't mind the doing that takes me outdoors but am terrible about neglecting what needs to be done in the house. Who wants to miss a minute?

Anonymous said...

Very nice