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Backyard Philosopher

Clumps of green blades dotted the flowerbed. Some of the leaves obviously belonged to crocus and hyacinths that were soon to blossom. Other clumps belonged to either daffodils or mystery lilies. I wouldn’t know for sure until the daffodils sent up stems and buds.

This flowerbed had looked completely dead when the winter snow melted. Then the first small green shoots pushed their way up through the cold, wet ground. I marveled at this miracle despite having seen it happen each spring of my life. How tenacious the small bulbs were! How badly they wanted to live! How inconceivable it was that they were able to wake up and start growing again after having been frozen solid for months on end!

Flower bulbs were not the only things growing in the yard. Swollen red buds tipped the maple tree branches. Despite a chilly spring, leaves were sure to follow soon. Blades of grass in the lawn were pushing up through last year’s brown thatch. The lawn mowing people were sure to follow soon, too.

I went to sit in a chair on the deck to muse the endlessness of household bills. My daughter Tammie was sitting at the table across from me. She looked up from her phone as I complained, “In the winter I pay for snow to be removed from the driveway and buy fuel for the furnace. In the summer I don’t pay for those things, but then I pay for someone to mow the lawn and have higher electric bills for using the air conditioner.”

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Jigsaw Puzzles

“Why is it so dark this morning?” I wondered, stopping at the stairway window to check out the back yard. Everything looked dismal, every color drab and uninspiring. Pine trees framing the lawn showed up as a deep green, nearly black. The lawn had various shades of brown and tan patches, depending on the weed makeup of each area. Gray, bare branches looked like lifeless claws. Overhead were low, dark, threatening storm clouds.

The air felt damp and chilly. Looking out the window over the kitchen sink while heating water for tea, I saw rain begin to fall. A low rumble of thunder growled and a short-spate of sleet tapped on the window glass as the tea leaves brewed. 

Shivering, I cupped my hands around the warm teacup and thought, “Today is a perfect day to work on a jigsaw puzzle.” Strolling into the living room where an unfinished puzzle lay on a folding table, I turned on a sunlight lamp to push back gloomy shadows and sat down. Before I knew it, hours had passed as I happily worked at finding the right place for each puzzle piece.

Completing the puzzle gave me a huge sense of satisfaction, but also regret because the scene was finished. Rummaging through my supply closet, I searched for a new jigsaw puzzle. What I found was a huge 1,500-piece picture of a very pretty lady surrounded by cherry blossoms and began to set it up on the table.

Sudden, radical weather changes are typical during spring in Wisconsin. A few days later, warm air and bright sunshine flooded my yard. Giving the unfinished cherry blossom lady’s face a wistful look, I explained, “I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. When there’s nice weather during spring, I must take advantage of it and do yard work.”

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The Mystery Grows

The sun felt warm, but the minute I stepped away from the house, a cold, wicked breeze stuck its icy fingernails down the warm nape of my neck. Playfully, it probed under my jacket to chill my midriff. It painfully clawed at my bare hands until I reached into my pocket and pulled on gloves. I refused to let the wind deter me, because I was on a mission. With the snow melted away, I was finally able to search the back yard for something I’d lost more than six months ago.  

Dismal, dead grass covered the lawn, squashed flat by the winter-long weight of snow drifts. With the snow gone the lawn suffered the additional indignity of being covered with a winter’s worth of the dust and grime.

Six months ago, I’d lost my garden plants and flowers. One day they were healthy and beautiful. But after one night of freezing temperatures, they were burnt to a crisp. I needed a sign that somehow, mysteriously, the perennial plants frozen solid in the ground the entire winter could come back to life! I missed them and longed to see a sign, no matter how small, that they were going to resurrect.

In the muddy soil of the flowerbed below the kitchen window, small green sprouts were bravely pushing up from their cold, dark underground bed into a bright but hostile Wisconsin spring day. I found what I was looking for! If these were coming up, there would be others. I recognized the brave greens as daffodils, planted there many years before. Ignoring the evil wind, I enthusiastically forged ahead to see if other plants I loved were showing a return to life.

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Leaf Drive

A cluster of crisp, pale-orange leaves twirled through the air and fluttered down to land with others I’d rounded up earlier. The leaves on the top of the growing mound impatiently twitched with each passing breeze. In my mind I played Frankie Laine singing the theme song of Rawhide. Using the leaf blower to herd another thick mat of leaves toward the pile, I gleefully sang along with my mind song, “Move ‘em on, head ‘em up. Rawhide! Keep movin’, movin’, movin’…”

Instead of accompanying cowboy shouts and snapping whips, the leaf blower purred as I rolled another batch of leaves to my leaf corral. “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’.” With the happy memories of a cattle-drive television show that I had loved during my childhood and a little imagination, I was turning a boring job into fun. I smiled to remember how I had a big crush on the show’s actors when I was fifteen-years-old. I never did figure out who I liked more, Gil Favor or Rowdy Yates.

Looking up, I eyed the leaves that still clung to the maple tree branches. They were stubborn like cattle that refused to cooperate. Why hadn’t they joined the other leaves several days ago in their great stampede? For one glorious, windy hour, leaves fell like heavy snow.

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Fall Colors

The leaves on the flowerbed apple tree were dull green. All leaves on the lilac bushes along the red barn were missing. A cool breeze gently tugged at the hem of my shirt as if to remind me of why I stood on the deck outside the backdoor. Fall was further along than I had thought.

In July and August, when everything was lushly green and growing, the summer’s heat and mosquitos had kept me indoors. I’d told my daughters, “Come September, the nights will be cooler and the days more pleasant. I’ll go outside more, then.”

The maple tree Arnie had planted along the road was still bright green. Through its branches, I spotted the red leaves of sumac growing on the lower end of my yard. I wanted a closer look. Walking toward them, I studied the grove, reflecting, “Sumac are slow to put on their leaves in the spring, but are the first to turn red in the fall.”

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Calling Elmer Fudd

Smiling as I stepped into my hoop-building garden, I took a deep breath and looked around. The smell of good soil and the sight of beautiful growing plants filled me with joy. I didn’t have time to weed, but did have time for making an inspection of the growing plants. I immediately spotted a problem. Something looked different.

There appeared to be fewer carrots than I remembered from the day before. Looking closer, I discovered a small carrot peeking out of the soil, its ferny carrot top missing as if someone had taken a scissor and lopped it off. Its developing greenery was nowhere to be seen.

In the row of peas, every single plant was either chewed down to a stub or entirely missing. Over half of the kale I’d planted was missing, too. I knew who the culprits were. Scanning my back yard, I spotted a small rabbit sitting next to a flowerbed. Another was fearlessly hopping across the lawn. Rabbit number three was nibbling on grass nearer to the river bank.

That evening when talking to my daughter Tammie, I complained, “Years ago when one of the mouse traps killed a rodent, a friend of mine claimed that for every mouse you catch in the house, there are ten more living in the walls. I suspect the same ratio exists for rabbits. For every rabbit you see out in the open, there are ten more hiding in the tall grass.”

My daughter exclaimed, “Ew! That means you have thirty rabbits in your yard!”

I answered with a sigh, “And there are probably also thirty deer who visit my yard every night. You should see what they’re doing to the flowerbed along the driveway.”

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Delicious Grapes

My friend from North Carolina, called me last week. At the end of our conversation I asked her what she planned to do that day. She paused to think, then shared, “I ordered several plants recently and they were delivered yesterday. The sooner they’re planted, the better. This afternoon I’ll be gardening.”

Remembering the happy anticipation my family experienced whenever Mom or my brothers ordered fruit trees from a catalog, I inquired with interest, “What sort of plants did you get?”

Chuckling, my friend explained, “I had a hard time deciding between blueberries and cranberries. I love blueberries, but I already have some growing in my yard. I wanted to try my hand at growing cranberries, so I ordered a few plants. My order wasn’t filled correctly though; the nursery sent blueberry plants by mistake.”

Laughing because the same sort of mix-up had happened to my brother Casper once, I questioned, “Did you call the nursery? Are they going to send you the cranberry bushes you wanted? In mix-ups of this sort, nurseries don’t want the customer to send plants back to them. They consider the incorrect order a total loss.”

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Flower-Fooled

A jumble of plants crowded together, all vying for a spot in a patch of weak, early spring sunlight in the far corner of my kitchen. Suddenly I noticed my mystery tree appeared to have blossoms. Stepping closer for a better look, I quickly realized the unexpected white blossoms belonged to the spider plant on the shelf above. One of its dangling spider babies hung perfectly within the cluster of the mystery plant’s green leaves.

Shaking my head, I vowed to put most of the plants crowding the counter, including the mystery tree, outdoors as soon as the weather was warm enough to plant my garden. As I began to make breakfast, I debated leaving the mystery plant outdoors next winter. Would it survive? Did that matter?

Two years ago as I was preparing the garden for winter, I’d found the mystery plant growing in one of the rows. The small tree already had a woody trunk. Its leaves were a deep, glossy green. To my surprise, I discovered sturdy thorns at branch points. I consulted Google, asking it what sort of plant would have these characteristics. Google answered, “Most citrus trees have thorns.” Of course, that meant I just had to put the plant in a pot and take it indoors.

Each summer I enrich the garden soil by burying scraps from my kitchen: potato peels, egg shells, banana skins, apple cores and juiced lemons. The two bags of Meyer lemons I’d bought earlier in the spring came to mind. So, I knew why a lemon might have started to grow in my garden. One of the seeds I’d buried along with other scraps must have thought it had been planted.

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Making the Rounds

The unexpected feeling came over me suddenly. I went to stand at my office window. Surveying the blanket of wet snow lying heavily on the flowerbed along the driveway, I cupped my cold hands around a mug of hot tea. Until now, I hadn’t given a thought to the plants and bulbs in my yard since the first major frost in September.

A mix of curiosity and desire, along with a deep, longing to see things growing in the yard where now everything looked dead and frozen filled me. I wanted to know if the daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinths in the flowerbed were going to come up and blossom this spring. Would the herbs I’d planted near the trees along the south driveway flourish or wither this summer?

What triggered my unfulfilled gardener symptoms? I suspected the warm, forty-degree days Wisconsin enjoyed the last week of February. That, and the combination of a snow-covered yard, below-zero days and a five-month respite from gardening gets to the best of us. My mind wanted to jump back into digging in the ground, even though the weather and my body were signaling the desire was at least two months premature.

I complained to my daughter Tammie, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way yet. We’re still at least a full month away from “Making the Rounds” weather!”

Raising one eyebrow, Tammie questioned, “What’s ‘making the rounds weather’?”

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Aching Pinfeathers

Outside our cozy, warm house, a cold fall drizzle was turning freshly fallen leaves into a slick mat under the trees. I flopped down onto the linoleum living room floor beside the heat register and began to read a comic book.  

Mom put our supper in the oven to bake before she stepped into the living room. My brother Billy, who had been lounging in her upholstered rocking chair, got up so she could sit down. I observed his respectful behavior and felt pleased and content.

Mom snuggled into her comfy chair commenting happily, “Seeing the rain makes me thankful I worked all day yesterday getting my yard work done! But, ach…do I ever have sore muscles!” Her flowerbeds spanned our farmyard from one end to the other. In my mind’s eye, I saw how pretty they had been all summer. Yesterday Mom had removed all their frost-deadened leaves and stalks.

The comic book before me was about Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, his nephews Hewy, Dewy and Louie on a search for a great hidden treasure in Egypt. Scrooge’s greatest nemesis, the Beagle Boys, ‘caught wind’ of their find and boarded the ship the ducks were taking back to Duckburg. Beagle boy number 176-617 held Scrooge upside down by his legs and demanded the treasure. He snarled, “Hand it over, you rich pig-of-a-duck!” A jewel suddenly dropped from Scrooges blue frock coat. The Beagle brothers, in true pirate manner, made the ducks walk the plank.

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