Welcome back to Magnetic North, where we learn lessons both bitter and sweet from Mother Nature. Or, as she is known best in Northern Minnesota, Mommy Dearest.
Lessons this fall have been delightful. My first red, ripe tomato grown from seed is going to grace our table tonight. True, we may have to hunt for it on our plates, given its minute size - think misshapen marshmallow. But it is the right color and I grew it without benefit of greenhouse, wall-o-water or animal sacrifice.
The other 156 still-green tomatoes on the deck are lovingly wrapped in flannel sheets nightly so as to trick them into thinking it is still summer and so time to turn red and juicy. I have, to paraphrase Blanche DuBois, “always depended on the stupidity of vegetables.”
So the lesson here? I don’t have a clue. I DO, however, have a picture of my little gem to brag on. Hey, it might even be our Christmas card this year! All I know for sure is that next year I’ll start growing seeds indoors earlier. Say, Valentine’s Day?
Walking to the barn nowadays I notice our meadow color changing by the hour. Just yesterday a riot of color dotted the acres of tall grasses: yellow birds’ foot trefoil, and black-eyed Susan, sky blue asters and lavender joe pye weed and, of course, a variety of white daisies.
The browns now dominate the greens. Ripe satiny cattails, leathery toes on the thousands of birds’ foots gone to seed and the sea of grasses nodding with heavy heads, aching to burst and be done with yet another year.
I gather seeds, both wild and cultivated. The black-eyed Susans from the meadow and the teensy Johnny jump ups and pansy pods from the window boxes go into carefully labeled baggies. Now if I can just find a place to store them so that I find them in time to plant!
But back to the next sweet lesson of late; it involves none other than Hold Me, my White Chinese gander. Hold Me and his mate, Touch Me, are so named because of their incessant neediness. Not just for food, for cuddling. But only by me. Anyone else gets a beak in the backside.
Sadly, I fell from grace with the two geese last spring, about the time I moved them from their home in the barn to the chicken run, same as last year. The kiddy pool gets filled and the ducks and geese get summer vacation.
But this year, they also got constant rain and the run turned into a big, gloppy slime pit. It was worth my life to reach the kiddy pool when it needed cleaning, sinking as I did up to my ankles in wet clay and all else. Worse, as the muck deepened the geese began to attack me on my way to clean their pool.
Yes, my darling gander, the very same goose who I tuck inside my parka each night in the winter and carry about like a baby, actually fastened on the back of my leg one day in June, leaving a bruise the size of a silver dollar. Only later did I realize that the goose didn’t like the mud any more than I and was trying to tell me in the only way he knew how.
Come August I decided the big white meany didn’t deserve to spend summer by the pool. I moved him and his mate back to the barn…a barn considerably altered from the one he left. Six new goats and a llama made quite a welcoming committee. The honks of horror from Hold Me and Touch Me went on day and night for two days. And I laughed in sick satisfaction at every one.
Then I noticed a change in temperament in my old gander. Gradually, over the last month, he came closer and closer, head bowed in supplication instead of striking out like a cobra. Yes, all was forgiven. He wanted to make up.
For those of you who enjoy sleeping on goose down pillows, I can tell you that hugging the real deal and resting your check on a sleek white wing beats that luxury by a country mile. And then, there are those amazing blue eyes and the gentle touch of his CLOSED beak on my back as he hangs his neck over my shoulder. Summer the llama, and my six goats watch me sitting in an old green resin lawn chair in the barn at bedtime with Hold Me, and are clearly puzzled. To them, after all, the goose is a noisy nonentity. A nuisance. A nut job. They just don’t know.
And so these are the faith lessons of late summer. Faith is truly “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen” - the tomato I always knew would one day be mine, and the goose that surely would love me again.