I enjoyed a walk in the woods near my house today as it was unseasonably warm outside. The backdrop of cascading yellow leaves was a beautiful sight to behold. Our property is surrounded by maples and tulip trees whose leaves turn to gorgeous shades of gold in the fall. I kicked the leaves to make a rustling sound as I walked. I spied acorns and pinecones peering through the leaf piles. Just beyond the creek that runs beside our property, I discovered a tree that was amazing in a different way besides its leaf color.It is extraordinary because it has a very distinct shape in a knothole. The hole goes clear through the tree which is in a state of decay although it still has leaves and signs of life. The fact that it is still standing is a testament to the image it portrays. I have named it the “Love Tree” for there is a perfect heart shape permanently imbedded in its bark. I am reminded of a poem called Trees by Joyce Kilmer.
A line in the poem states “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” I might also add “His love was shown to me through a tree.”
Last weekend, I travelled with my mother and daughter to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. My mother is delighted anytime we take her near her childhood home of Christiansburg. I searched the internet for bed and breakfast accommodations near Abingdon and discovered an 1880’s farmhouse that sounded idealistic. We have taken risks before by staying in unfamiliar places. Sometimes it has worked out to our advantage but other times it has been disappointing.
I spoke to the owner of the farm when I made my reservations. She warned me that the farm is difficult to find in the evening because of the dark and winding mountain roads.Our goal was to arrive well before sunset. However, we were not prepared for an hour-long delay travelling through Charlotte last Friday afternoon due to a traffic accident along the interstate.
We arrived in Abingdon just as the sun was setting. I phoned the farm-owner. She said we were about twenty minutes away. She gave me directions and said she would have the lights on. The travel time seemed longer than what we anticipated and the road was DARK! Finally we reached the church where we were to make a right turn but we were unable to find road signs leading to the farm. Fortunately, the lady had parked her car at the bottom of a hill. She stopped us and led us up the road leading to her farm. When we parked, we could make out only a shadow of the farmhouse. She got out and led us by flashlight along a sidewalk towards the house. She warned us of a metal boot scraper that was imbedded in the concrete just outside of the gate.
She showed us around the inside of the house. It was filled with interesting antiques and portraits of her family. The house had been updated with a modern kitchen. There was a living room, dining room, family room and bathroom downstairs. Upstairs were four bedrooms and an additional bath with a claw foot tub that had been added to the original house. We were very comfortable because each of us had our own room.The only drawback was that there were four steps down from the landing to reach the bathroom. In the middle of the night it got very dark in the house so we had to set up lamps near the stairs so that my eighty year old mother could find her way down the steps.
We went to bed early as we were tired from the trip. We were excited to sleep in old beds covered with beautiful antique quilts and soft down filled pillows. It was easy to fall asleep in such luxury. However, the real delight came in the morning when we peered out our bedroom windows and finally beheld the surrounding countryside. We spotted cows and horses grazing in pastures of rolling hills with distant mountains behind them. Barns and sheds near the house seemed to beckon for us to explore them.
We excitedly ventured downstairs into the kitchen and discovered a vase of yellow and red roses on the table and a basket full of delicious breakfast treats. Our hostess had bought pumpkin doughnuts and apple bread from a bakery in nearby Bristol. She had also tucked an assortment of fruit, cereal and coffee in the basket. We felt very pampered and were delighted to get a taste of the country for a weekend.
We have begun phase one of a beautification project in our backyard since the city’s crews have finished digging and have removed their dirt moving equipment. They pushed and moved dirt around for about two weeks beginning by 8 each morning and quitting by 4 each afternoon. Fortunately, the weather cooperated during that time and even the threat of hurricane winds and rain did not blow or wash their work away.
First they dug and removed cracked concrete drain pipes. Next they dug out a deeper trench. They left a four-foot deep ravine along the back of our property which leads to a creek on our neighbor’s adjoining property. They smoothed out the dirt piles then laid out bundles of straw and burlap mesh which then was covered with grass seed.
The landscape area looked bare when they finished. We decided to plant a row of fast-growing shrubs that would eventually hide the ditch and landscaping fabric along the slope facing our property. The problem was that the ground back there stays fairly wet during rainy seasons. We had to decide what could tolerate damp ground conditions. We decided on tea olive shrubs known as Osmanthus. They are evergreen, have a holly type leaf and have sweet-smelling white flowers that bloom both in the spring and the fall.
I shopped around until I found a reasonable price since we had to cover a 140 foot expanse. We got 25 shrubs to be spaced out 6 feet apart. The nursery delivered them. We had our yard guys dig the holes while my husband planted the shrubs. Four hours later, I had three tired, sweaty fellows but a beautiful hedge of shrubs. They planted them in a curved rather than straight line for better aesthetic appeal. The plan is to later fill in with some camellias and Little Gem Magnolia trees in front of the hedge.
About twelve years ago, our beautiful white persian cat came to live with us in a very extraordinary way. A pack of stray cats hung out in our backyard then. At the time,we had some cat food in a bowl near our back door for our tuxedo cat that occasionally went outside. The food attracted a few interesting critters including an occasional opossum or racoon. It became a problem, however, when stray cats hung around because they wanted to stay permanently. During this feline visitation, a particularly scraggly and motley crew showed up. We tried our best to discourage them, inquiring of ownership among the neighbors to avoid calling the pound. With their usual overload of cats, sadly many are euthanized.
Two of the cats in this pack looked like they had been in a cat fight. One had a partial ear that apparently was injured during a brawl. We heard them outside our window at night hissing and howling at each other. One night we noticed an interesting white addition to the pack. We began to see him show up with regularity. We noticed that he was a persian although his coat was quite matted. We tried to get near him but each time we came close, he would run away. He was very skittish around us. We referred to him as the “ghost kitty” as he would appear and disappear quickly around the house when we suddenly came upon him. He looked like a ghost as he whizzed by us like a white streak in the dark.
My son began to befriend the little cat that was so shy and scared. He gradually got closer to him until one day he was able to pet him. Of course he wanted to keep him and because no one claimed him, he soon was ours. We had to have him completely shaved down to regrow his now beautiful white fur. We had him neutered as he was spraying outside and we wanted to make him into a house pet. The vet made an astonishing discovery. This poor kitty had no front claws and had been fairly defenseless outside. No wonder he was so scared! His skin was full of scratches under all the matted fur. There was a total transformation between the shy, matted creature before and the gentle, loving beauty that he has become. My daughter suggested the name Pushkin because of his pushed nose and rather grumpy face.
Sometimes we are visited by the neighbor’s cats. We have found the yellow tabby curled up on a sunny spring day taking a “cat nap” in a flower-pot beneath our deck. There is a black, brown and white calico that wanders through the yard occasionally and teases our Cavalier while she sits at the picture window in our kitchen longing to tear after him. Our Cav loves to go out on our deck where she can get the best vantage point to scan our property and a corner of our neighbor’s yard. Their yard is heavily covered with foliage from which the cats can peer out and easily find a camouflaged spot to hide from our furocious sounding dog. Our Delilah has caught these intruders by surprise when we have taken her on walks. She has gotten close to them but never quite close enough for her liking. She lives frustrated because she can do no more than bark at them to temporarily frighten them away.
This week we have had a different type of “cat” in our backyard. I am talking about a power-operated form of equipment that is used to move dirt around.
We have lived with a ditch in our backyard where water drains from surrounding properties into a drain field and eventually into a creek beside us. The drainage ditch has gotten bigger through the years and the water run-off has begun to create some gulleys on our property. A complaint was filed before we bought our property five years ago and we hoped one day the problem would be addressed but had almost given up thinking they would come to fix the problem. We tried to work around the problem and made a garden plot beside it in the spring. A team of workers from the city came to inspect our property about a week ago. They have to excavate through our garden to work on the project. I am really not upset. I believe it will be worth it in the long run. In the mean time, I am having to look out in my yard at some monster “cats.”
I once loved to sing. I sang in school choirs as I was growing up. I credit my high school chorus teacher for instilling a passion in me for singing. He made choir performances fun and very entertaining. He selected songs for us to sing from various show tunes such as Oliver, My Fair Lady and South Pacific. He stretched our voices and tested our ranges. He encouraged me to audition for a soprano part in a small ensemble. My audition music was O What A Beautiful Morning from Oklahoma. I was pleased to learn that I had been selected to be a part of the group and we went on to perform in musical programs for the school and at various community events.
Through the years, I became a part of music groups in churches. I helped lead worship on some praise teams, sang in church choirs and even did some solo performances. Then there was a long time when I pulled back. Either I felt like I was getting older and did not want to be on stage anymore, the music had become too contemporary and unfamiliar to me or I became involved in other areas of service. I still enjoyed accompanying my daughter when she played the guitar for family get-togethers or in more private settings when we worshipped together at our home.
Since my daddy was a classical cellist, music has always been a big part of my life and stirs my soul. It has never left me, it just has become more subdued and pushed deeper inside of me.
Recently, in church I was asked if I would like to join the praise team again. At first I was hesitant. The members of the group are talented musicians. At first, I felt inadequate since I had not been involved musically in a while. I decided to step out in faith to offer up my voice once again in worship.
It has been a season of growth for me. I am learning new songs and harmonies. The experience has been very rewarding. I have learned that one is never too old to learn something new if we will just be humble, make ourselves available and have a teachable spirit.
My first attempt at growing sunflowers from seed proved to be quite successful this summer.
The Knock Out Roses are not affected by the heat and drought.
The crape myrtles are in their glory now. This is a stunning miniature variety called Cherry Dazzle.
Since my last post, we have had a long drought in South Carolina. If there is rain in the area, it seems to skirt us and we miss it. I have been watering my plants diligently but am now beginning to lose some. I have focused on my newest plantings but older ones have started to get neglected. My once beautiful petunias on the back porch dried up weeks ago. My planters on the front porch have only survived since it is a shady spot most of the day. A rosemary plant that is generally pretty hardy near my back patio has bit the dust. My new camellia has been struggling as it is just beyond reach from my garden hose and the water it gets comes only when I concentrate on it with the fullest power of the spray head attachment. My new purple-leafed crape myrtles are also beyond reach of the hose so I have had to resort to carrying buckets to water them.
I had great plans for my vegetable garden. It started out beautifully. The tomato and cucumber plants took off due to the early rains of summer. Then the weeds started to grow. I tried putting loads of mulch around to try to keep the weeds down. The hotter it got, the more they grew and the less I wanted to go out in the heat to battle with them. Before long I gave out and the weeds took over. I have decided that next year I will put black weed block in the garden as mulching alone isn’t enough. On the plus side, my sunflowers look great if you can overlook the weeds.
I am glad I decided to go with the hardiest plants in my ornamental garden as weather conditions can be pretty severe here in the heart of the summer. We have had several weeks now when the temperatures have risen to the upper 90’s or near the 100 degree mark on the thermometer.
As I am writing this, I hear thunder. If we get rain, I am tempted to go outside and dance in it as it has been such a long period of sweltering heat. It is amazing how long periods of severe weather zap energy and lead to an overall depression of mood. The thought of rain suddenly revives me and lifts my spirit.
This is also true spiritually. We need times of refreshing and renewal in the long haul on our spiritual journey if we are to stay strong and endure the fight or race we call life. We also need to stay on top of keeping bad things out of the garden of our mind and heart if we want to produce abundant and healthy fruit.