Lynn's Musings

From a Deep Well

The Impatient Gardener

I remember being a kid, riding in the back seat of my dad’s car asking “Are we there yet?”  That’s exactly how I feel waiting for Spring.  The long dark months of winter are slipping past and March is fading fast.  The sun rises earlier each day, birds sing in the trees and wintery mix is in the forecast.  Aren’t we there yet!?  This gardener is impatient.  I’m tired of the listless greens from the grocery store and miss my garden greatly.

            I need the smell of damp earth and the sight of seedlings opening their leaves and reaching for the sun.  The only cure this time of year is a pot of dirt and a packet seeds.  So I did what any restless gardener would do, I figured out a way to make it happen.  I took two plastic take-out containers that I’d saved because you just never know when they might come in handy and hammered small holes in the bottoms and filled the tops with pea gravel for drainage.

Then I went out in the garage and filled the containers with chopped up frozen dirt. I brought it all into the house to warm up and dampened them down.   I set the dirt filled bottom containers inside the pea gravel filled tops.  Then I sowed two varieties of lettuce: one container of Four Season and one a Gourmet Blend, then covered each container loosely with the tops of two more take-out containers of the same size. (I have several because, well you know….)

            I set up a baker’s rack, I’d bought at a yard sale years ago, in my east facing windows. The lettuce containers fit nicely on the top shelf.  There was room on the middle and bottom shelfs for the tuberous begonias I had wintered-over in a cool dark corner of the basement. It was time to wake them up also.

In less than a week I had lettuce spouts with tiny leaves on wobbly stems. 

They looked amazing and assured me that spring is getting closer as the cold rain and sleet hit the windows.

            A couple weeks before planting the lettuces, I’d discovered two marble-sized potatoes left from last fall’s harvest that had started to sprout.  They went into separate clay pots and after a week or so in a sunny window the first tiny leaves had appeared.  Now they are a foot tall and need to be repotted. 

Once the nights get above freezing I’ll plant them in the garden along with several hills of Pontiac Reds where they will produce a nice batch of new spuds.  By the middle of July I will be able to reach in and pull out a few new potatoes without disturbing the plants.

            It won’t be long before I’ll be standing in the garden leaning on my hoe and enjoying the smell of damp earth, the warm sun on my back and taking a few minutes to watch the vegetables grow.

The Predawn Sky

I have my morning coffee a little after 6am, sitting in the dark on my front porch, binoculars in hand.  No, I’m not spying on the neighbors, I’m looking up at the dark sky.  Even in my light-polluted subdivision, I can see the planets and stars.

            One morning, Jupiter was high and bright to the southwest and a crescent moon rose in the east.  Looking through my binoculars I could see the shadow of the moon’s mountains along the terminator line.

It’s all my dad’s fault that my eyes turn to the stars.  He would take me out after dark with a star map and a flashlight.  It was DARK at our house- no streetlights, no mercury lights and no one on our street felt the need to have their porch lights on all night long.  The Milky Way arched overheard as the constellations marched along the zodiac with the passing seasons. 

Every now and then we would be treated with the silent, awesome display of the Northern Lights.

I can still find the Pleiades, as cluster of bright stars also known as the Seven Sisters.  

Now that autumn is here the Big Dipper and Orion, my favorite, are high in the sky.  The Orion nebula, just south of his belt, is the birth place of stars.  How amazing is that? 

Seeing all the stars scattered across the sky never fails to fill me with wonder.  The silence of the early morning and the beauty high above connects me to the greatness of the universe.

            My coffee cup is close to empty, the last couple sips have grown cold, when I notice the first faint rays of predawn light just beginning to reach above the horizon. 

Copyright November 2, 2021

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Scrumptious Butternut Squash Bread

Butternut squash have taken over a third of my garden, winding its way through the potatoes and I’m pretty sure it’s planning an escape into the backyard.  I’d saved the seed last year from a squash I bought from an Amish gardener at the farmer’s market.  I’d turned that squash into a delicious soup.

            There are so many tasty dishes to make with butternut squash but I thought, why not bread?  I have a good pumpkin bread recipe that I’ve made several times and since pumpkin is just another kind of winter squash it made sense to me to substitute one of my homegrown, homegrown beautiful pinkish-beige ones. 

Butternut squash has a milder flavor and the flesh is lighter in color than pumpkin, but I was betting it would make a delicious bread.  The first step was to cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, brush the flesh with olive oil (to keep in the moistness) and roast until it was soft and mash-able with a potato masher.  I set the oven to 375 and placed the squash on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.  I checked the squash with a sharp knife after 30 minutes but it wasn’t quite done.  I gave it 10 more minutes.  Once it had cooled, I peeled off the outer skin, cut the squash into small chunks and put it in a bowl. I was pleased to notice that it wasn’t stringy like cooked pumpkin can be.  It took a little muscle, but I mashed it up good.  Next time, I’ll use an electric mixer.  Now I was ready to bake some bread!  The bread turned out delicious and moist.  Here is the recipe I used.  I hope you enjoy!

LYNN’S BUTTERNUT SQUASH BREAD

1 butternut squash, cooked, peeled and mashed

4 tablespoons of water

1/2 cup raisins

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup cooking oil

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup cooked and mashed butternut squash

1 3/4 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Topping:

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup sugar

DIRECTIONS:   Cut the butternut squash in two lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds.  Place both halves, cut side up, on a cookie sheet and baste lightly with olive oil. 

Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 to 45 minutes.  Test flesh with a sharp knife.  It should easily pierce the flesh.  Let cool enough to handle, then remove outer skin. Cut into chunks and mash with a potato masher or an electric mixer. Place water and raisins in a small saucepan.  Heat until warm but not hot.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Do not drain.  In a mixing bowl, stir together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla.  Add 1 cup of mashed butternut squash along with the raisins with water and blend well.  Into a separate large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Add egg-squash mixture and carefully mix well.  Add walnuts, stirring to mix.  Grease and flour one 9×5 inch or four 3×5 inch loaf pans.  For the topping, mix cinnamon into sugar and sprinkle over the top of the loaves. 

You don’t .need to use all of the topping mixture, just what looks like enough.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 45 to 55 minutes for a large loaf or 35 to 40 minutes for small loaves.  Cover with an aluminum foil tent if getting to browned. Test with a toothpick for doneness.  Let loaves cool for 5 to 10 minutes before carefully removing from pans. 

Copyright September 3, 2021

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Gardening – An Act of Faith

            What is it about those firsts in the garden – the first sprouts, the first blooms, the first miniature vegetables?  Every year the seeds germinate, the flowers turn into tomatoes, green beans and bell peppers and every year I’m as delighted as I was with the first little patch of garden my mom said was just for me. 

It is an act of faith when each seed is planted; faith that water and earth will awaken the life held dormant inside, faith that a seedling will emerge seeking the sun’s light and warmth. 

            I tried a new vegetable (to me) in my garden this year – parsnips.  The seeds were in the ground and weeks passed but no little leaves were breaking the soil.  I waited some more and hoped I hadn’t weeded them out by mistake.  Not ever having grown parsnips I had no idea what the sprouts looked like.  Then one day there they were all in a row.  Childlike amazement swept through me.

            Perhaps that is why we gardeners garden; the pure joy of watching life rise from the earth.  I’m as excited as a kid at Christmas when I see the first little green tomatoes, baby green beans and budding squash. 

Every time I find a self-seeded tomato plant, an unexpected melon vine, potatoes growing in the mulch pile, I consider them gifts.  It makes me wonder at the tenacity of the life hidden in the dirt and I’m grateful for the unanticipated bonuses.  I do my best to find a place for each one in my already full garden. 

            On a whim, one day the accountant in me decided to add up the cost of my gardening.  As the dollar signs grew I chose not to finish the tally.  Maybe it would be cheaper to buy the produce at the farmers market, but the joy of gardening can’t be had without feeling my hands in the warm earth, waiting for those first leaves to appear, keeping a daily vigil and toting watering cans and hoses.

            Humans have been gardeners for millennia.  It is part of what makes us who we are.  I feel rooted in knowing my ancestors, past counting, welcomed the spring solstice, waited for the rain and planted seeds with the faith that life would again rise from the earth and greet the sun.  

Copyright July 19, 2021

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Re-Entry

I’m having a little trouble and I know I’m not the only one. After a year of a limited and very different type of social life the world has opened up and some of us folks are feeling a little overwhelmed.
When Covid hit, I along with many others, went into panic mode and didn’t leave the house for a month. By then the pantry was pretty empty. A trip had to be made to the grocery store. That required the full regalia; a mask, latex gloves and hopefully my glasses would double as goggles. Scurrying down the aisles, holding my breath as strangers (danger!) passed by, I was dismayed at the decimated shelves and everyday items that weren’t to be had. The groups of shoppers staring at empty displays let me know I wasn’t alone.
After a few weeks of adjusting to staying at home, my attitude began to change. All of a sudden there was time; time to shorten the bedroom curtains, put a fresh coat and new color of paint on the bathroom walls. Time to pour a hot cup of coffee, lean back in the recliner and read a book for as long as I wanted to. The start of each new day felt a little lighter and less stressful.
Then the day came when I picked up a pen, dug out a half-written manuscript and started working on my unfinished novel. My mind reach back to the story of Benjamin and Ruth’s journey through the Black Swamp on their way to West River Bend. I was writing again; peaceful and contented in my solitude. But there was also a small whisper of guilt because I felt that way. So many people were suffering.
Now the post-Covid summer is here. Getting vaccinated let me enjoy lunch with my brother for the first time in eighteen months, be a spectator at my granddaughters’ softball games and take a hike with my Audubon friends. But after all those months of staying close to home, several days of socializing leave me with the need to go dark for a day or two, recenter and catch my breath.

Copyright July 5, 2021

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FOREST BATHING

I discovered the other day that I’ve been participating in an activity called Forest Bathing, when here all along I thought I was just taking a walk in the woods.  Come to find out Forest Bathing is a real thing and has many benefits beyond the sense of peace I’ve always found.

            One of my favorite memories is of going into the woods across the road with my dad.  In the spring he would point out the sprouting blood root and showed me the hidden delicate blooms that would become May apples.

  Robins and cardinals sang in the trees and flew in flashes from limb to limb.  Woodpeckers drummed letting us know they were near.  We silently stood at the edge of a pond listening to the deep sound of bull frogs claiming their piece of turf.  He showed me the tiny creatures living in the waters and explained their importance. 

He instilled in me a sense of awe, wonder and stewardship.  I have never lost my love for the forest.

            A few years back I bought a new house.  The reason I chose the area I moved into was because there are two nature-type centers close by.  I did a lot of self-debate about taking on a mortgage while walking along paths covered in last year’s leaves.  Nothing calms my soul and clears my mind more than listening to the trees, standing in their presence with that primordial feeling of being a part of it all. 

            I looked farther into the benefits of Forest Bathing and found that spending time with the trees can lower your blood pressure, will lessen anxiety as well as increase a person’s over-all physical and mental fitness.  Not everyone can take the time for or has access to a walk in nature but bringing nature into urban settings – trees planted between buildings and streets, flower boxes and planters in front of store and office buildings – is also beneficial. 

            Hanging out with the trees gives a feeling of being a piece of something larger, it refreshes the mind leaving a feeling of peace and opening it to creativity.  This emotional response is one of many reasons why it is important to protect and preserve our irreplaceable natural places. 

            Take a stroll down quiet paths covered in dappled sunshine.  Turn off your phone or leave it behind.  Feel a connection with creation knowing generation to generation have stood and listened to the whispering of the trees.




Copyright March 22, 2021

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Happy Valentine’s Day

For the first time in ages I’m looking forward to Valentine’s Day. Living through this past year of separation, somehow I feel closer than ever to my friends and family. With long phone calls, texts, emails and photos, we’ve shared our Big News events but, more importantly, we shared our small ones, too.
During the summer and fall we were all able to meet up outside and socially distant for lunch in the park and coffee on the front porch. We gathered together for photo excursions and bird watching out in the woods and fields. We exchanged books to help get us through the dark winter months.
Now its February and Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow. The daylight hours are slowly growing and I’ve noticed the sun is still up and shining through my kitchen window as I wash up the supper dishes. Valentine’s Day will soon be followed by Lent, St. Patrick’s Day and the equinox; all markers along the road to spring. Warmer days and gentle breezes will soon be upon us along with the return of robins and hummingbirds and the blooming of crocus and tulips. I smile, feeling uplifted and looking forward to seeing my beloved friends and family once again.

Copyright February 11, 2021

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Into The Winter Woods


I haven’t been on my skis or snowshoes in two years. I was reminded of that fact the other morning when it started to snow. Nothing serious just those late-November flakes, the ones that float in the air, line the edge of the driveway in white and are gone the next day.
I felt that childhood mix of joy and anticipation. I am excited at the prospect of donning my skis again and heading out on the trails or silently trekking through the woods in my snowshoes. I’m lucky to have both the Dahlem Conservancy and MacCready Nature Reserve close by. Their stands of hardwoods, pine forest, fens, beautiful lakes and ponds and a gently sloping prairie wait for me.
Before I go out, I’ll set up my skis in the front room, put on my boots and test out the bindings and my knees. I will imagine flexing and weaving my way down long hills and twisting paths. I can hear the sound of my skis sliding along another’s tracts or cutting through virgin snow. I can taste the crisp freshness of the cold air; feel the silence of the wild places. The beauty and peace will lift my soul. I’ll stop and stand in the center of it all – awed and amazed.
The last time I strapped on my snowshoes I couldn’t figure out why they sunk into the snow and didn’t hold me up. Trudging down the unbroken trails was quite a workout. I went farther than I should have, it being my first time out that season. I was breathing hard, heart pounding, hands sweating in my mittens by the time I got back to the parking lot. It was six months later when I realized the fifteen pounds I’d gained had put me over the weight limit of my gear. I was embarrassed but have it admit it was funny, too. The good news was, with a little will power it was something I could fix.
I’ve spent the last several months slimming back down, the image of easily striding along pristine winter trails as my motivation. The extra fifteen pounds are now gone along with a couple extra for good measure.
It’s raining again today. It is November after all but if the temperature was ten degrees colder that rain would be several inches of fresh snow and I am so ready.

Copyright November 28, 2020

 

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Falling Back

This time of year the daylight hours get shorter every day. Soon there will be the switch from daylight savings time to standard time. It’s not the shifting of the day and the resetting of the clocks that throws me. It’s putting away the lawn mower, filling the gas tank and changing the oil in the snow blower. It’s in October that I notice Orion, a sure sign of winter’s approach, shining bright in the morning sky. But what really brings the change of season home to me is having my morning cup of coffee indoors with the curtains closed against the darkness instead of outside sitting on the patio enjoying the sunrise. During the warmer months, I love watching the morning break from the faintest light with Venus and a few bright stars still visible in the sky to the sun climbing over the horizon. That peaceful hour sets the tone for my day.
My parents moved to Florida years ago. One afternoon I was telling my mom of the projects I’d saved up to do during the winter. She said that was one of the things she missed about not living in Michigan. With the year-round warm weather in Florida there wasn’t that distinction between summer and winter tasks. She found it hard to settle in with a good book when there were weeds growing in the garden all twelve months of the year. She felt less guilty taking an hour or so to curl up with a steaming cup of tea and escaping into a murder mystery when the ground was covered in snow.
I don’t look forward to the long nights and gloomy days of November, but I love a good snow storm, the brilliant blue sky and bright sun the next day and a glowing fireplace.  

In  mid-February, about the time my joy at a fresh snowfall has turned into dread, I notice the sun is once again above the horizon and shining through the kitchen window while I’m washing the supper dishes then a few of weeks later I see the first robin in the yard.
I catch myself wishing for a few more weeks of winter because there are still items on my to-do list. They will have to wait because – thank goodness – spring is knocking at the door.



Copyright October 18, 2020

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A Morning Adventure