Saturday, March 27, 2010

Change and the Lack Thereof

     The sun is shining and we are talking about planting our garden. No, we aren’t actually ready to put seeds in the ground. The fickle Highland weather won’t allow us to do that for at least another month, but we can dream about potatoes and tomatoes. My very unadventurous husband wants to plant something exotic just for the fun of it. He suggested rutabagas. What the heck is a rutabaga and what do you do with one after you grow it? I’ll have to look it up. Joe, the man I married because I wanted a rock, a man who takes weeks to make any kind of major decision, recently changed his beer brand after 20 years of faithful sipping and now rutabagas! What will he think of next? Change is in the air.
     After a wickedly cold snowy winter, everyone is rejoicing in sunshine. This year’s Maple Festival was a case in point! The first weekend was moderately attended because it was a bit rainy, but the second weekend was slam jam packed with wall to wall vehicles. The sun was shining, and the sapsuckers (as we affectionately call them) arrived in full force. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to drive over five beautiful mountains just to end up in an hour long traffic jam, but I talked to more than one visitor who said this festival is the highlight of their spring. And, really, thank goodness! Our little slice of heaven depends on these visitors to help pay for scholarships, field trips, fire departments, fuel assistance, and mission trips, to name just a few. For my middle school students, it meant slapping together  barbecue and hotdogs and baked potatoes  and serving them with a smile. Another year of field trips paid for by the work of the students who will be on them.
     The Maple Festival always reminds me of how truly wonderful my neighbors are. The Ruritans flip pancakes and fry sausage and make thousands of doughnuts just so they can offer scholarships to students, aid to the homeless, a Little League Field to the sluggers , and firewood to the elderly. The ladies of the elementary school spend days baking bread and then selling it to visitors to fund Cancer research. The churches sell ham buns and funnel cakes so they can go on mission trips. The Lion’s Club deep fries truck loads of pork rinds so that they can help support the local pool and provide eye-glasses to kids who can’t afford them. This is only a small example of the bustle brought on by Maple visitors.  I don’t think any other community in America can rival the service hours offered by mine. Tonight, I am going to help with a spaghetti dinner totally organized and executed by two teen age girls who want to help a young family recently burned out of their house. I am humbled by their generous offer of time for their friends, but I am not surprised by it. Children here grow up flipping burgers and waiting tables all in the name of fund-raising. It stands to reason that selfless service would weave itself into their natures.
     So change may come in the form of rutabagas and sunshine and visitors to our community, but the things that really matter in a small town don’t. The kids here still grow up knowing who their neighbors are. They know that we are all family.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Purple Love

     When I got home from school today, Joe and I went out to feed.  I rode on the back of the truck dropping hay flakes into the frost-bitten meadow for the cows as the wind picked up the chaff and whirled it around my head. Although it was from the north, the breeze was gentle, and there’s a promise of spring in the green blush creeping up the sides of the hills.  I haven’t heard the peepers yet, and it’s not officially spring until the peepers sing. I have, however, heard the robins as they wheel in from the south. Like all critters, they have more than one thing to say. So far, I’ve heard the peek and tut of an agitated robin, another one singing a morning song (which sounds like “wake up birdy, wake up, wake up birdy, birdy”), and a lusty male claiming territory as he announces shrilly that spring is finally here. I wish he were telling the truth, but the fickle weather is calling for snow flurries.
     I went out last Monday to trim my grape vine. It’s a chore I usually do a little earlier in the season, but the snowy weather sort of put me out of the mood. When the maple trees finally woke up and started pumping out sugar water, I realized I had better get the job done before it was too late.
     I learned to trim grapes from my good neighbor Rudolf. His home place is a mile deep into a hollow across from our house. In early September when the spicy smell of grapes hung like a purple haze in the autumn air, he used to call and invite us to share in his mother’s bountiful harvest. I always made Joe drive us over because the little wooden bridge to Cliffie’s house was only three inches wider than our car and the boards jumped and rattled alarmingly as we crossed. There were four gates on the driveway, and each one had to be opened and shut to keep the cows from roving. Three were off their hinges and had to be dragged across the hard ground. Finally, we would pull up to Cliffie’s tiny white frame house tucked into the chin of a friendly hill. The grapevines were full of purple, red and white grapes. Purple for juice, red and white for jelly.
     While we picked, Cliffie, who was by that time legally blind, would sit on her porch in the afternoon sun and entertain my boys by barking like a dog. Even though she could only see shadows, she always insisted on coming down the steps to help with the picking. The grape juice from her vines always seemed sweeter because of her happy laugh.
     Cliffie died about eight years ago, but Rudolf still tends her vines and several years ago, when mine finally got large enough to bear, he taught me how to trim them. Before the sap rises, you must go out and trim the long leaders back so they each host no more than two plump pink buds. These will send out sturdy shoots to hold the heavy clusters. If you don’t trim the vines, the harvest will be slim. I got mine done just in time.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sing A New Song

     I stood out in the sun today and listened to the Earth making little contented pops and crackles and crinkly sounds. It was slurping up snow. As I searched for the source, I noticed bubbles in the melt. All around me the spongy ground was bubbling and burping. It got me to thinking about elephants. They make sounds that are so low pitched that we humans can’t hear them. But, of course, other elephants can. Researchers once taped some of the sounds and played them back to the elephants across several miles of savannah. The sounds were obviously a message that the elephants understood. As a group, they turned and began walking towards the hidden speakers.
     We humans often self-centeredly assume that all creatures experience the world the same way we do. Hearing the same frequencies of sound, seeing the same wavelengths of light. But, recent science has shown that our limited senses can only receive a small spectrum of the information floating past us on a daily basis.
     My dog, Ruff, could always hear Joe’s truck coming down the road long before I saw it cresting the last hill in the valley below my house. He would perk up his ears, bounce up and down and start to bark. When he did this, sure enough in about three minutes, the blue truck would slide into view a mile south. Even at the end of his life, when he was totally deaf to anything I might say to him, he could still hear that truck.
     My rabbit beagle’s nose picks up an amazing array of olfactory signals that completely elude me. When I take him out on a brisk winter day, all I smell is clean air, but his nose vacuums up groundhog, human and rabbit smells, sorts them out and then zones in on the one he is most interested in chasing. He loves me with a devotion that I don’t deserve. The minute I step out of the house, he sniffs me out and comes running for a pat on the head. I can’t even sneak out for a walk without his amazing nose sniffing me out.
     So many things on this earth make a music that we can’t hear. What else don’t we know about? Do spiders sing in high pitched arachnid arias that draw bugs to their webs? Do angels shimmer in a wavelength our eyes can’t discern? The Psalmist wrote: “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy." Today, I heard the Earth singing praises to the Creator as it gratefully drank the first water of spring.