Friday, July 24, 2020

Away, Away...

Abbey of the Hills

I’ve been thinking about solitude lately. And not the forced solitude of Covid-19 quarantine, although it has helped many people to discover or re-discover the benefits of choosing solitude—a slowing down, introspection and self-realization, blooming creativity, and some research suggests more compassion, as we’re forced to distance even from our own small circle of friends and contemplate humanity as a whole.


Solitude is not the same as loneliness. Solitude is a choice, and as long as you can still engage with other humans when you want to, solitude is very healthy. Some researchers even suggest that solitude—away from the buzz and noise of everyday life—is essential for internal exploration and identity development.


It’s true we don’t always like what we find when we turn our gaze inward, and this is probably why so many people are afraid of solitude. But I can’t change it unless I face it. And really, is growth as a human being possible without the self-reflection possible in solitude?


I just turned 64, and for the past several years I’vebeen giving myself a gift each year around my summer birthday—solitude. For many of those years, I’ve gone to various monasteries. I either go with a friend, where we each spend quite a bit of time alone but share meals, occasional walks, and sometimes services with that monastery’s Sisters, or I stay in a hermitage, where I spend several days without seeing another human. Last summer I traveled Ireland alone doing research for a book—more pilgrimage than hermitage.


I did a hermitage again this year, at Abbey of the Hills in northeast South Dakota. It’s a former Benedictine monastery, Blue Cloud Abbey, set in rolling prairie with two tiny hermitage cabins. I’ve been going there since back when the Brothers were still there (they dispersed when vocations dwindled and they couldn’t keep up the Abbey anymore). I’m a writer trying to finish a poetry manuscript I’ve been working on in one way or another for 5-6 years, so the “room of one’s own” was a blessing, and I mostly finished. But also, I’m a Type A hyper-responsible overachiever who just needs an occasional reboot.

The first day of my annual “away” is always a frazzle of travel, hauling, unpacking, and getting oriented. After that, solitude makes a few miraculous things happen:


(1) There’s a sense of release. Muscles let go. My shoulders drop. I sigh a lot.

(2) I give myself permission to do nothing. I let go of my usual daily duties and take full responsibility only for me. The day I arrived at the Abbey this year, I dropped my baggage inside the cabin door, then I spent at least an HOUR watching storm clouds build over a pond.


(3) Or, I give myself permission to work without interruption.


(4) I re-center, re-align, re-examine, and remember my priorities.


(5) I connect again with Earth. I watch, listen, walk and really feel every step. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “With every step, the earth blooms,” and yep, I do that. This year I saw a marmot, deer, a beaver, and a kingfisher (my totem bird). I heard cows, a dog, scrub jays, something scratching under the cabin, and something, uh, softly “bugling” (that’s the best I can do for this sound I’ve never heard before) outside my open window at night.

(5) I take care of myself and pay attention to my body. I eat when I’m hungry. I go to bed when I’m tired. I wake up when I wake up.


(5) I heal. If I feel like crying for two hours about all the people who’ve died from Covid and their unrealized potential, or John Lewis’ passing and why in the name of all that is holy we still need a Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, I do. If I need to acknowledge and vent my deep deep deep really really very deep dislike of Trump, I do. If I need to eat carbs, I do. If I need to play my ukulele and sing up a storm, even though my stroke-y left vocal cord is barely moving right now, I do. If I need to pray to the Universe or Mother Earth or Saint Mary Magdalene or All That Is Sacred, I do.


I’m so incredibly grateful—and aware of my privilege—to be able to do this. I have a family who understands and supports my need for solitude, and they help me make it happen. I can afford to rent a monastery room or hermitage for a few days. I teach, so I can find time to go, either by choosing not to teach during the summer, or by teaching summer classes online. I would do whatever I could to help someone else “away” too, if they wanted. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to start. I wonder how my parenting, my younger career path, and even my place in community would have been different if I had started this in my 30’s? I’ll contemplate that next “away”…

Monday, June 22, 2020

Surrogate Gardens

We’ve been quarantining now since mid-March. We’re tired of being more or less shut in, we’re sad and upset about the ongoing racism that’s led us to this moment of social upheaval, and -45 is STILL president, dammit. (SERIOUSLY, what would he have to DO that he hasn't already DONE?!?). 

Here at home, it’s a miracle we haven’t set the place ablaze or tripped each other down the stairs. There is such a thing as too much togetherness, and I swear our kitchen is shrinking a little bit every day. We're each spending waaaay more time (but not at the SAME time) on the porch or in the back yard...

"Feed me, Seymour." --Bleeding Heart Bushes

Ray...are you in there?

I think one reason we’re still able to occupy the same space is that we’re taking it out on the gardens—all this pent up frustration about social distancing, the lack of life-giving and brain-stimulating human physical contact (HPC) except for one’s quarantine “family,” and our thwarted genetically-nomadic desire to travel—it’s all being channeled into gardens. This is how it’s manifesting here at Uncannery Re-Row:

1.     PPC. We have crammed into a relatively tiny garden space tomatoes (enough to supply a canning factory), a variety of peppers, a wall of cucumbers, greens, watermelon, and six kinds of herbs. That’s on ONE end. On the other end are salvia, iris, columbine, bergenia, and a hydrangea bush that knows no boundaries. On the side of the garden are daylilies and two bleeding heart shrubs so huge they will demand human blood soon. Our garden plants are surrogates. Plant physical contact. PPC.
2.     Travel. We can’t go anywhere, but our gardens can represent. This year we planted a peach tree (Colorado); our back fence is lined with hollyhocks (the past, my grandma); we planted honeysuckle vines (the south); I potted up and set out several cactus gardens (southwest); and we planted some heirloom vegetable varieties (exotic destinations). We also dug and planted a new garden this year, a prairie butterfly/hummingbird garden (staycation).
3.     Social Distancing. In the garden at least, we rebel, we defy this. Plants that started two feet apart are now elbow to elbow and, in some cases, overlapping. They do not wear masks. They breathe right on each other. They sing if they feel like it.

Our weather has been strange and strangely beneficial for our “venting gardens;” we had a round of baking summer, with temps in the upper 90’s, during which we had to water every day. And now we’re having a lovely spring, with several days of rain showers and a thunderstorm here & there. In the past 3 days of rain, the cucumber vines have grown 6 feet. I think they strangled the neighbor’s cat. Soon we’ll have a rainforest, so if you don’t hear from us for a while, we’re probably just whizzing along on our ecotourist [tomato] canopy zip line…

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Skinny on FATNESS

We’re coming up on 3 months of “stay at home” and social distancing. We’re in our 9th day of protests across the country over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and three other officers who either helped kill him or did nothing to stop it, and over America’s historic and current systemic racism. In two weeks or so we are likely to see spikes in Covid infections among the hundreds of thousands of protestors, some masked, some not, most not practicing social distancing. Hurricane season just started and it’s predicted to be a rough one. -45 is still president. I. CAN’T. EVEN.

I ate this teenager.

So let’s talk about fat. I’m a fat girl. I was a petite thing once; in junior high, I remember weighing in at 73 lbs, and I thought—even then—I was enormous. Somewhere, somehow, in that age of Twiggy (Google her, kids), the distortion and fat shame was already gurgling in my pubescent brain.

The men in my family are mostly tall and thinnish. The (1) women in my family are all roundish and overweight. But I managed to stay pretty trim until (2) childbearing began and the true tyrants of human life--HORMONES--kicked it into high gear. With each of three pregnancies, I packed on more weight I couldn’t lose. Then came perimenopause, which I call The Dark Years. I experienced, like many women, irregular periods that were often extremely heavy. I was prescribed (3) bioidentical HORMONES to control the excessive bleeding. I packed on more weight, and they made the flooding so much worse that one weekend I turned even whiter than I already am, and I was too faint to get up. I called the doc, who said to double the dosage and call her on Monday. I said I’d be dead by Monday and hung up on her. I stopped the HORMONES immediately. Shortly after, I was diagnosed with (4) depression
(12) How I got fat?
For the next few years, the weight steadily increased. Then true menopause. The depression got worse. (5) My activity level bottomed out. More weight gain.

Then I had (6) a right Pons stroke at age 56. Docs never really know the cause, no matter what they tell you, but it was probably a combo of stress (both at work, and home trying to deal with the depression), high cholesterol, and smoking—a trifecta. The stroke recovery took about two years and left me with a draggy left foot, no balance, and chronic daily fatigue. So I didn’t get much regular exercise while I was re-learning stair climbing and shirt buttoning. I was also put on (7) antidepressants after the stroke, which were a miracle for me but which often cause…you guessed it…weight gain. Also, the less you move, the slower your (8) metabolism, and the more weight you gain.

Two miles of blissful torture.
I’m 63 now (everyone knows (9) it’s harder to lose weight the older you get), and 5’4” with red hair, so I look like a little fat milkmaid. I’ve been on EVERY DIET KNOWN TO HUMANKIND. For days, for weeks, for years: fasting (starvation), macrobiotic, keto, Whole 30, Noom, Medifast, Profile, Weight Watchers, vegetarian. I’ve eaten cabbage soup till my pee turned green. I once lived for a couple months on rice and soybean sprouts.

I don’t work out, but I move pretty constantly—walking across campus, climbing two flights of stairs in our house several times a day, shopping, etc. I try to break a sweat every day. I track, and log, and journal, and own seven kinds of fitness trackers.

My latest attempt to lose weight (and get back some strength and balance) is the “Eat Like a Bear” (ELAB) 23/1 plan: I fast for 23 hours a day, and eat very low carb for 1 hour, mostly something called the “Ridiculously Big Salad” or RBS, a gigantic bowl of vegetables with 6 oz. of protein. You laugh, but this is the kind of self-flagellating fat people do. In addition, I’ve been walking at least two miles a day. After two weeks of sweat-walking and a week of ELAB, I’VE LOST 5 LBS. Only five fecking pounds, and any serial dieter will tell you that’s probably all water.

I know that not every fat person has a spiraling, compounding vortex of predicaments like this, but ALL WEIGHT GAIN IS COMPLICATED. There are LOTS of reasons people get fat. I have a friend who attributes her weight to the (10) sexual abuse she suffered throughout childhood, and to a desire to be undesirable. How do you tackle THAT with Nutrisystem or Noom?!?

Here’s my bottom line: If you are one of those skinny, perfect-weight, easy-losers or never-gainers who keep saying “you have to try harder,” “you should run,” “simple—burn more calories than you eat,” “have you tried the celery and iced tea diet?” or any of the other “helpful” advice I’ve been hearing all my adult life, or you’re one of the people who tells me, “I keep losing and I’m not even trying,” or “I just forget to eat,” my answer is, in my sweetest little milkmaid voice, ALL OF YOU CAN SHUT THE F*%K UP BEFORE I EAT YOU.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Passing the Time in Pandem[onium]

We’re a little over two months into quarantine/social distancing now, and it’s starting to feel a little like our new normal, which is kind of scary-comforting—I was a tad hermity before this all started, and it’s a pretty short hop across the line to recluse. But we’re keeping busy, and I’m still showering for now…

Semester, usually determined to kick me off a cliff by the end, sort of fizzled out this spring. In the Pandem[onium], a few students just disappeared without turning in final work. This made me aware that in face-to-face classrooms, these are the students whose hands I would hold, for whom I would make every class an opportunity to be accountable, and who I would try to drag over the finish line. But that wasn’t possible this semester. The most I could do was email and text numerous pesky reminders, which today’s tech-savvy  students are accustomed to screening and ignoring. Alas, my grades are turned in, and I hope the disappeared students are okay.

My summer class.
I’m teaching a summer class (online) that started this week, and it was restorative to meet a new crop of nervous, excited, and/or confident students, even if they were all in 2” windows and our class looked like an episode of Hollywood Squares.

Another thing I’ve been doing to make quarantine more bearable is something I call “a good old Irish walk.” When I was in Ireland last summer, sans car, Irish folks would tell me that whatever I was looking for was “just a short walk” away, which could mean anywhere from 1 to 25 miles. I did a LOT of walking. So lately I’ve been taking long walks whenever I can, exploring Little Town’s nooks & crannies.

Luck o' the good old Irish walk.

Above the Missouri River
One of the side effects of quarantine is projectitis, a sudden need to start, or get back to, completely random projects. For the past two weekends, Ray has been hauling cartloads of the 7 cubic yards (that’s about 6 TONS) of black dirt we ordered into the garden. I bought 8 brackets on clearance about 5 years ago, and each holds the ends of 2x12’s to make raised garden beds.

I’ll also be painting the 4 unfinished wren houses I ordered from the Audubon Society, because I LOVE those bossy little wrens, and they raise babies each year in a broken frog head hanging from a shepherd’s hook in my back yard. They deserve better. A robin built a gorgeous nest on top of a wreath hanging just outside our front door, where she sits on 6 blue eggs. When we drive her off occasionally because WE HAVE TO USE OUR FRONT DOOR, she and Mr. Robin flit around the yard chirping robin obscenities until it’s safe for her to return.

Shhhh! Babies sleeping!
Speaking of babies, I’m also knitting babies. It’s part of an Ireland project to commemorate the approximately 6000 babies who died in Ireland’s “mother and baby” homes: I’m making simple little babies while watching Curiosity Stream documentaries, usually on stuff like native forests of Mongolia, mapping the human brain, or tool use in scrub jays.

Babies for babies.
Like probably half of the world right now, I’m also teaching myself to make sourdough bread. Maintaining the starter is a cross between The Blob and a horrid junior high chemistry class, and our house always smells like yeast. So far, I’ve made one beautiful loaf and several discuses, doorstops, and patio umbrella stands for the Christmas gift stockpile.

The one we could actually eat.
Isolated at home, I’m also confronted by the tapestry wall hanging I started when I was 21…shouldn’t I get back to that? And wasn’t I going to make something out of that Rubbermaid tub full of old band t-shirts? What about the pasta maker I bought, loaned out for a few years, got back, and have stored in the basement ever since? Shouldn’t I be making homemade ravioli? Now would be a great time to teach Yogi (dog) to use those speech buttons I bought a decade ago. 2020: The Year to Get Shite Done. (Double entendre intended.)

People are finding other ways to pass the pandemic. Our local businesses are re-opening, but they’ve been mostly doing curbside/pickup, and Little Town folk are turning out to support them. A local balloon business is keeping spirits up with scavenger hunts. The owner makes ingenious balloon sculptures each week and places them around town, then posts when the hunt is on. We have occasional short, socially-distanced, masked porch visits. We have a weekly family Zoom that gets bigger and wilder every week.

I see your true colors, Poppy.
Sadly, the CDC just predicted that over 100,000 people in the U.S. alone could die by June 1, and that we should start serious planning for a worse “2nd wave” in the fall. Worse? Really? Whenever someone suggests Covid is a hoax, or it’s no worse than the flu, or blahblahblah, I ask them to tell it to the 90,000 dead Americans. Many re-open and/or die people are out and about, without masks, oblivious to social distancing. Going for supplies is an obstacle course, dodging and weaving around unconcerned “not me” Covid targets who ignore my 6’ bubble. And like many universities, Little Town U is planning to be back on campus in the fall.

These things terrify me, here in our household of three high-risk, medically-compromised, but still vital and valuable human beings. So for the foreseeable future, we'll be tucked in here. Time to queue up another episode of Ballykissangel while I make paper mache molds of Ray’s feet…where’s the tempera paint…

Monday, April 27, 2020

Pandem-onium Week 7

We started our social distancing on March 13, so we’re heading into our 7th week. In addition, we’re having our house painted (something we’d contracted for last fall, pre-Covid). All the windows and doors are covered in plastic, taped, and painted over right now, so we are truly cocooning in our isolation. We do curbside pickup for groceries, we mask up to ride our bikes or walk the dogs, and a non-contact pizza delivery is a “festive night.” The U.S. president, who I like to call -45, is telling people to drink the Kool-Aid (ingest disinfectant, open the economy, go to the beach). Somehow, we’ve all been transported to an alternate universe.

Cocooning in the kitchen.

Gifts: Letter from granddaughter, grading-pen holder from Annie.

Here in South Dakota, which is somewhat sparsely populated, we’ve had 2212 cases of Covid-19 infection so far. This number seems low, until you learn that over a thousand of these cases (and 3 of the state’s 11 deaths) are workers and their contacts from one Smithfield meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls. This is made even more tragic by the fact that so many Smithfield workers are immigrants and working poor, and that Smithfield was paying employees a $500 “incentive” bonus to keep working after the first employees were testing positive for the virus. Sadly (and preventably perhaps), we’re seeing this situation play out now in meatpacking plants elsewhere in the state and in adjacent states.

It’s really hard to stay positive in this Pandem-onium. I watch the news in a sort of deer-in-the-headlights trance, knowing all the while that I should run for the trees. I have a hard time concentrating. I worry constantly about our little household, all of us at high risk. We’re all over 60 (my mom, who lives with us, is 84), and between the three of us, we have all the textbook “comorbidity factors” (oooh…I’m getting so pathology savvy): heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and prior strokes.

However, Pollyanna that I am, I’m trying to re-focus my thinking and appreciate the astonishing changes I’ve made in my life as a result of quarantine:

1.     I have a significantly expanded collection of recipes and cooking/baking/grilling/nutrition ideas from the Interwebs—praise be the Al Gore and his Interwebs!
2.     I’ve made several important kitchen upgrades: I got a mixer out I haven’t used since I got it last Christmas, I correctly seasoned all my cast iron, and I found my FoodSaver and pasta machine, both still packed away from the last move five years ago.
3.     I’m cleaning out my pantry and freezers in the service of culinary exploration. I have quite a collection of rare, exotic, and unknown (labels long since lost or faded) items, most of which I bought for that one dish I was determined to make and never got around to. Things like whole Bonita fish. Five lbs. of falafel. 25 lbs. of wild whole plums (my winemaking days). Tobiko (flying fish roe). Puff pastry. Sweet potato noodles. Nori. Cauliflower rice. Peri peri. Guava paste.
4.     Believe me, I am the LAST person who needs to be holed up with FOOD and new recipes. However, my haphazard experimenting (see #3) means that at least some of the dishes I’ve made are inedible by weak-toothed or finicky humans and must be either (a) fed to the dogs, or (b) ground up for the birds, so the calories don’t add up as fast as one might imagine.
5.     I now have an alternative-medicine/personal care storehouse: a fairly comprehensive collection of homeopathics; heating pads; OTC medications for mucus, phlegm, congestion, diarrhea, and assorted other grossities; a steamer, nebulizer, glucose monitor, blood pressure cuff, digital thermometer, and oximeter; herbs and herbal syrups; Epsom salt soaks. I already have a massage table and a footbath. I’ll be opening a wellness spa post-pandem-onium.

Socially-distant bike ride.

6.     I’m not a fan of exercise. Motivation and a self-replicating pile of work are usually the sticking points for me, but given the choice lately of a walk or bike ride vs. ONE MORE MINUTE IN THIS DARK HOUSE, I’m moving a bit more.
7.     I’ve had plenty of time in the house to procrastinate…er…conduct research. I know a LOT now about singers’ throats and paralytic vocal cords, the benefits of tonic water, Magdalene laundries in the Netherlands, fortifying the immune system, sound-triggered anxiety in dogs, and the art & science of sourdough bread.
8.     I’ve revived the personal barter system, thanks to my daughter’s overload of farm-fresh eggs: eggs for elderberry syrup, eggs for TP, eggs for parsley and mint. Eggs are the new currency.

Eggs for sourdough starter.

My first sourdough

So hang in there, everyone. Take good care of each other. Social distance and wear a mask to keep your elders and other vulnerable people safe—you could be carrying the virus and not know. We may have to do this a while, but humans have survived this long because we ADAPT. Remember that no matter what you see on TV, there are sane, smart people working on a vaccine. We’re learning that ventilators may not be the best option. We learned that antibodies may not equal immunity. We’ll figure this out. Until then, I need parsley and cilantro, and I’ve got eggs…

Bucket 'O Chicken (hen finds the food and dives in)

Hazel named this chick Victoria,
because the chick "victoriously stood on my arm without falling."

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Post from Pandem-onia

I’m pretty good at putting a Pollyanna veneer on dang near anything, but I gotta admit…this Covid-19 has me positively spin-less. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a Ray Bradbury novel, and sometimes all I can do is sit with my hands in my lap, mouth agape, thoughts spinning like a 45 (that’s a tiny record for you young’uns). We're only on Week 1 of XSD (Xtreme Social Distancing), but right now there are already 7000+ cases in the U.S., all 50 states, 11 in South Dakota, and that number could jump by the time I finish typing this. It was 5000+ YESTERDAY.

Here are some observations I’ve made so far in Pandem-onia:

1.     Teaching – The next time you think teachers are overpaid or lollygag on their “summers off,” remember that right now, teachers who’ve had two week’s notice or less to reinvent the wheel are working almost non-stop to transition classes to completely online. They’re prepping for two, four, fifty-two, seventy-five weeks online—no one really knows how long. I’m incredibly grateful to have taught online before, so the transition is less daunting for me than for countless colleagues across the country, now working long hours at kitchen tables, on their third pot of coffee, as they learn new software, revamp lesson plans, modify activities, keep in contact with scared students, and remain calm.

2.     Working – Ray is still going to work, a good reminder that not everyone has the option of working from home. He works in an in-house print shop for a large healthcare system. He is careful. He doesn’t touch anyone. He maintains his personal space. He comes in at night and washes. If we had a futuristic disinfecting shower at the back door, he’d be using it.
3.     Risk – Did I mention that Ray and I are BOTH in the at-risk category? We’re both over 60, and we have a smorgasbord of “underlying medical issues” between us. I’m not visiting with my kids, both because Ray is still “on the outside” and we don’t want to infect them, and because they are young and healthy, and we have no way of knowing if they’re infected—life was normal until it wasn’t: slobbery kids at birthday parties, long, lazy dinners at busy Burger Kings, K-12 schools (those petri dishes of childhood togetherness)…
4.     Economics – In spite of the obvious risks, I’m thankful Ray can still go to work and I can work from home. This pandemic will surely deal a near-fatal or fatal economic blow to people who can least afford it—people who will lose their jobs as a result of social distancing’s impact on the small businesses they work for, or because their kids are home from school and they must choose between work and watching their kids, or small business owners who will have to shut. Bernie Sanders’ redistribution of wealth will happen in spite of his campaign probably ending, because we will have to feed each other.
5.     Hermiting – I’m a hermit anyway, so working from home is comfortable for me. But we’re human primates, which means—think of troops of chimps—we need each other. In spite of my love/hate relationship with technology, I’m grateful for the many ways we can keep in touch with each other, check on each other, and reach out to buoy spirits and ease fears. And we need to keep doing that.
6.     Chefery – I’m getting pretty creative with food. Like curried stockpiled beans and carrots over stockpiled brown rice. Or Cajun stockpiled lentils and stockpiled vegetable pasta. The 35-year-old dehydrated mixed veggies in my freezer, the ones you all laughed at me about, from my Earth Mother hippie days, are gonna make some fabulous Pandemic Pilaf.

7.     Coping – I’ve sorted my troll doll and PEZ dispenser collections. I’m repotting plants. I’m washing and dusting things I haven’t touched in months. My laundry is done, and it’s mid-week. I’ve reconnected online with old friends. I’ve learned new songs on the guitar. I write down in my journal each day, three things for which I’m grateful. I’m revising poems. I’m knitting face masks (kidding…but not). I will stay busy and NOT give in to despair.
8.     Family – My 84-year-old mother is safely tucked away and social-distancing (a surreal new verb) in Kansas with my brother. My 88-year-old father, who has prostate cancer, is home with his wife, who is 82, self-employed, and must still work. They are both at great risk. Of our four kids and their partners, one has been at least temporarily laid off when the restaurant he works for closed, one is in higher ed administration and is still going to work every day, one is a nurse still going to work, and the rest are working from home. All kids are out of school.
9.     Fear – We are all afraid. Statistics are helpful in terms of knowledge and preparation and taking this seriously, but they also generate fear. We Humans of Earth are all standing along the tracks, watching the train wreck. We can’t look away. But we can hold each other’s hands.
10.  Continuity – you know what ISN’T affected by this pandemic? Spam and solicitation, that’s what. I’m still getting a gazillion emails a day from folks offering incredible just-for-me deals on leggings, reading glasses, hair dye, human growth hormone, vacation destination, mascara, “fair trade” jewelry, and wing chairs. And trolls.
11.  Optimism – Right now, as this pandemic ramps up to its peak in the U.S. and the numbers taper off in China, I BELIEVE we will come through this. Not all of us, maybe not even me, but enough of us. And in the meantime, my 116-year-old house will be hyper-organized and cleaner than it’s EVER been. ;)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Spring in Little Town

Every early spring, I remember why I live in South Dakota. There’s nothing like Spring in Little Town. We aren’t quite there yet, but I see the signs.

Little Town is on the river, and this morning, just after dawn, I took the dogs outside and HEARD spring. Two grackles chittered, bickering over a squirrel’s nest from last year. This year’s squirrels sat in the walnut tree, scolding the dogs. And then, from below the bluff, a chorus of honking, distant at first then louder and louder, until moments later three huge V’s of geese, and a dozen or more stragglers, flew overhead. While I was watching the geese, half a dozen pelicans, far above the low-flying geese, ambled from east to west, their white wings lit up in the early morning sun. Behind me, woodpeckers tapped at suet blocks, while goldfinches crowded our feeders, reminding me that the buffet needs restocking.

There’s something here about the SMELL of spring, too. Winter dulls the senses, covers up smells in its snow blanket or locks them in ice. But spring! The first smell is dirt, that rich top layer of humus defrosting as the snow melts. Then, the bouquet of smells on the wind, up from the river valley: water, dirt, cold, green, buds, animals, farmland.

Another sure sign of spring is shorts. When the temperatures start drifting into the 40s, then 50s, the students at Little Town U don their shorts. They wear them with boots, socks, hoodies, jackets, sometimes even parkas. My legs would turn some horrid shade of blue, but their young, high-metabolic flesh, their stubborn nose-thumb to winter, is a welcome (and pretty funny) promise of spring.

All over town, people are coming out, buzzing like bees just out of their hives. We walk dogs, clean around the edges of gardens still too frozen or muddy to work, take down bicycles from their winter garage hooks, head to the car wash, hike the bike path along the river, jog around town. And at our feet, through the greys and browns of winter lawns, sparse patches of grass hint at the explosion of greens to come. Cabin fever melts into euphoria—we’re stretching and shaking off winter’s semi-hibernation.

 I’m not sure how people manage without seasons. For me, summer is time to do play and do MY work; fall is back to school; winter is time for retreat & reflect; and spring is time for renewal & rebirth. Every spring in South Dakota is for me a time to re-create—a new garden, the yard, our little village, myself.

A friend once said we like South Dakota seasons, especially winter, because it keeps out the riff raff.
Maybe our friend is right; South Dakota is #46 for population density in the U.S. But we’re also #17 in land area, which means those few of us who make this our home have loads of room to roam, and to dig, listen, watch, smell. From my backyard, I can see across the river into Nebraska. Yes, winter means shoveling, white-outs, blizzard warnings, icy sidewalks. But spring is like childbirth—once you hold those miraculous daffodils in your hands, you forget winter’s long labor.