Resurfacing

 

It seems I have chosen Mother’s Day (or Mother’s Day has chosen for me) to be the day I return to blogging. It is kind of fitting – because it is mostly due to my mom and my mother-in-law that my life energy is coming back after a long period of hibernation and lethargy. Firstly, Mom and I exchanged old-fashioned email letters this week and caught up, making me suddenly acutely aware of how much I have missed communicating with her. It energized me just seeing her name in my Inbox. Thanks, Mom.

Then my mother-in-law invited all her kids plus spouses to the opera in Vienna on Friday, inspiring my husband to turn the occasion into a longer weekend stay. Despite one spell of bad luck (a crazy accident that will be covered in an upcoming blog post) it did me a world of good to leave the home village. Once again I became acutely aware of just how long it has been since my last getaway. Sometimes you simply have to put physical distance – kilometers or miles – between yourself and your daily worries and ruts in order to clear your head. That is what our two days in Vienna did for me. Thanks, Omili.

 

A few hours after getting home, I went to mini-seminar on wild herbs that my next-door neighbor had organized. A specialist walked with us around our neighboring field – the same route I take with my dog every day – pointing out various wild plants and flowers. She told us their medicinal powers, which parts were useful or edible (root, leaf, or blossom), and how to prepare foods or tea or creams with them. We gathered some, went back to the house and chopped them up. We mixed them into sheep’s cream cheese and yogurt. We spread it on fresh-baked bread. It was delicious.

That was yesterday. Today I wrote down all the (German) names of the plants that I could remember. Then I grabbed a basket and my dog to take my usual walk – but this time I noticed all the different wild plants I passed. I collected some again, repeating all the names I could remember. When I got home I laid them out on paper to create photographic cheat sheets in case I forgot any of it. And then it struck me . . . I could only translate two (!) of these 15 or 20 words into English. If I had been asked to name any of these plants two days ago, all of them would have been called either “weed” or “wildflower” –  i.e. one of the only two words in my English vocabulary for small green stuff that grows in fields.

I went to my laptop and fired up the google. I started typing these German names into the translator. “Yarrow”? What is that? I had never heard that word before! And if I had had to guess, I would have said it was a part of a boat. “Ribwort”? “Plantain”? I would not have recognized these as members of the English language. “Sorrel”? Isn’t that a breed of horse? “Avens”? I think that is a Norse goddess. “Ash weed”? “Vetch”? “Campanula”? Not a single bell was rung in my head by any of these words. And the final insult? – the one plant I thought I could name – the stinging thistle – turned out to be a “nettle”.

Now, I have never claimed to be Nature Girl, but this all struck me as fairly bizarre and pathetic.  Ostensibly, I have been passing these plants twice a day for thirty years without them ever having caught my attention or interest. Coincidentally, I have been powering through menopausal maladies for half a decade while about 5 different plants growing between my front door and my mailbox have been known to help ease these discomforts . . . How did all this knowledge escape me? How is it that I had almost no words to name the things I see around me every day?

Yarrow, ribwort, plantain, sorrel, avens, ash weed, vetch, campanula, nettle, thistle.

 

I assume I will continue to walk my dog around the cornfield at least once a day – this is one of my routines that I would never consider a “rut”. But from now on, I also assume I will not be plodding along obliviously, with my sights turned inward, circling around obsessively in the dark recesses of my brain. No, I will be looking at what is outside and around me, identifying green things and appreciating their existence. And I know they exist because I now have names for them.  The path of my daily dog walk has been resurfaced.

I think I’ve been resurfaced too.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Omili.

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Country Mouse, City Mouse

or:

“Four Recent (Mostly Unrelated) Run-ins with Nature.”

 

For some reason (which might have something to do with the return of the Nemesis to my household) I have had this sense of Mother Nature stealthily inserting her tentacles into my daily routine and life like the roots of a staghorn sumac. All I know is that I keep having these various encounters with Greenworld. It’s all very odd.

Encounter Number One of course deals with chickens.

Thanks for all the support you all gave me for my frequent chicken posting, by the way. Alison added that I shouldn’t neglect the Gingerbread Man in the process, so . . . go ahead and blame her for this first part of the post. On her urging, GB Man (finally!) met the chickens. It was . . . well, let’s have him tell the story . . .

“It went okay, basically. They were standoffish, mostly. Kind of clique-y. I spent most of the time alone at the feed trough. One chicken finally joined me, but didn’t say anything. Another one was all hectic and liked to call attention to herself. She had a haircut just like that guy I always see on my Person’s laptop. That was kind of creepy. I didn’t find any eggs. I’m not sure what all the hullaballoo is about.”

 

 

Encounter Number Two happened during my daily dog walks.

The autumn colors are spectacular this year. In the past two days there has also been an interesting assortment of clouds and a very thin haze, so it felt the whole time like I was walking through an impressionist painting. I remembered telling a student about Claude Monet and how he would paint the same scene over and over again at different times of the day and in different lighting. I tried the same thing, except with my camera. Here’s an example:

 

Encounter Three

My upstairs bathroom has officially been declared a natural habitat of the rodents, by the rodents and for the rodents. We had known there was a mouse – maybe two – in there for a while and we finally set a trap about five days ago. Within 10 minutes we heard a loud snap and had our first captive. The husband took it outside, walked quite a ways from the house, and set it free. He then reset the trap. By the end of the evening we had caught 5 mice.

Three days later we were up to Number 22 – here he is:

Since there is no way that 22 mice were living in our small upstairs bathroom without us noticing it, we decided that we were simply catching the same two or three mice over and over again. Somehow they were finding their way and sneaking back in.

The husband made a makeshift carrier for the next two mice and then took them to work with him the next morning (in a city 10 miles away). Here is Mouse 25 who is slated for relocation tomorrow. Note the useless Devil Cat posing nonchalantly next to him. No sense of shame there whatsoever.

Encounter Four required a road trip.

Now that the chicken project has lost its shiny new luster, the husband is on the lookout for a new project. He discovered a livestock breeder who had not only chickens, but also little dwarf goats and sheep. He asked me if I wanted to go along with him to look at them and for some reason, I actually said yes.

         

I’ve considered myself a city person who merely ended up in the country by accident 30 years ago and will probably keep living here for up to 30 more. But that doesn’t make me a rural person, no matter how many chickens I keep, walks in the countryside I take, or mice I relocate. I just don’t see myself as the keeper of miniature goats.

Although . . . they were pretty cute.

And I would find room for that donkey in a heartbeat.

 

 

Goodbye, Tree

 

As many of you already know, I’m not exactly Nature Girl. I have an extremely limited vocabulary to describe the natural world, mostly due to  . . . let’s face it, not really caring. I divide the green stuff I see around me into the loose genres (is that the right word?) of “grassy”, “bushy”, “flowery”, “treelike”, and “snack”. Within these groups I can identify a handful of individual specimens. For instance, I know a rose when I see one. Also a dandelion.  I can correctly name a weeping willow, a maple tree (thanks to the Canadian flag) and staghorn sumac (gardenworld’s “Walking Dead”). In the “Snack” genre, I can recognize a cornstalk and several types of berries (assuming they are ripe and ready to pick). But that’s about it.

So I am at a loss to identify the tree in our garden that was destroyed in last week’s wildly raging storm. It was our biggest tree and a rare type – or so I was told by a visiting botanist about 15 years ago. I immediately forgot what he said the tree was and have been meaning to find out. It was very shapely and tall. It was very good at providing shade and privacy to my favorite spot on the screen porch. But half of its huge branches (– tree-sized themselves) were lying on the ground after the storm and the remaining half of the tree threatened to fall on our neighbor’s roof. It had to go.

Before After the Storm:                      After the Chainsaw:

               

I spent a good ten minutes today on the internet trying to identify the tree based on its leaf. The closest matches were “Norway Maple” and “Canadian Hawthorn” – both of which can’t be right. The tree has no flowers or nuts or four-inch, fatal-looking thorns. I was sort of hoping one of my many greenthumbed blog people could identify it. Thanks in advance! And while you are at your research, I will be out on the porch with my Kindle and glass of Coke, feeling ever-so-slightly more exposed.