Friday, October 16, 2009

Be brave!

Be Brave - And mighty forces will come to your aid.

Several years ago, a friend and I had coffee with Barbara Robinette Moss. This would not be so remarkable except that Moss did not know us and at the time she was recovering from a serious injury that made it difficult for her get around. Still, she graciously made time for us - two unpublished, aspiring writers - spending more time than simple politeness may have dictated.

I was in awe of her, an artist and accomplished writer. Yet, Moss was genuinely interested in what we were writing, asking questions, offering encouragement. My book club had read her memoir Change Me into Zeus's Daughter. Before we parted, I shyly asked her if she would sign my copy. She thought for a moment and then inscribed this line - Be Brave - and mighty forces will come to your aid.

Some years later, Ms. Moss spoke at a luncheon I attended. By then, I was close to publishing my own memoir. I had returned to her inscription in my copy of her book many times. Her words had given me courage. I asked if this was a standard inscription she used. No, she said, it was something that came to her out of our conversation.

How she knew I needed courage, I don't know. But she was right. I did. I am grateful she agreed to have coffee. She came to that meeting with her whole heart, just as she did to her writing. I remember her lessons when I meet with other aspiring writers.

Barbara Robinette Moss died on October 9. She had cancer. She was a talented artist and writer. More than that, she was a good person. One of the many 'mighty forces' to come to my aid as a writer.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Snow on the prairie

Snow on October 10. This was unexpected. When a weather occurrence is out of the ordinary, I always think, 'Do I remember this happening before?' Though I do not remember snow as early as October 10, I'm sure it has.

What I can remember is the snow/ice storm Des Moines experienced on Halloween weekend 15 or more years ago. Sitting in my kitchen, I watched as limbs - big limbs - fell to the ground, as mature trees split. Each time a limb or tree gave in to the weight, the sound was unexpected, startling, frightening. It cracked like rifle shots, exploded like canon fire. I was grateful to already be home, grateful I was not skating I-235 with other downtown workers on the evening commute. The clean up was heart and back breaking. All those trees damaged or gone entirely.

This early snow is causing none of that devastation. At least here in Des Moines. In fact, it's already melting. The cold that is predicted to follow tonight will likely kill my impatiens even though they're covered. Oh, well. We try to hold on to summer for one more day, knowing this is not something we can actually control.

Generally, I enjoy the first snow of the season. This was just a little early. But I get to see the first snow on my prairie and enjoy it. A gentle snow on Saturday that will melt by Monday. And I know to be grateful.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Prairie paths and wildlife

A friend asked if I planned to mow the prairie off. It hadn't occurred to me until she said something. I had been thinking to let the snow and rain mat the grass down to mulch. The prairie plants appear to push through no matter what, though it takes longer with grass competition.

Once she planted the idea, though, it took root and grew until I found myself on the tractor headed for the prairie. Not to mow it all off. More to see what I'd find if I mowed some.

My first swath followed a curving line that approximated the line of a path I imagined walking while Big Bluestem wave over my head and Gray-headed Coneflowers blink in the sun (three years from now). It took two swipes to get the long tendrils of wiry crab grass clipped off. Sure enough, small prairie plants were hidden under all that shade.

I grew braver, mowing swaths in other directions, each time making sure to cut around the still-blooming Partridge Peas and avoiding by a wide margin my newly blooming Common Sunflower.

At one point, I looked back over my shoulder. There in an area I'd just mowed was a rabbit. Not injured, but scared out into the open by the tractor. I stopped at the edge of the prairie, got off the tractor and walked back, to within a few feet of the rabbit. It never moved. Just huddled still, looking at me with its black eyes. I walked all around that rabbit and it never moved. I had anticipated prairie plants under the crab grass. I had not been thinking of prairie animals.

To be honest, I'm not a fan of rabbits. More often than not, they're nibbling at some plant I'd rather keep - like the broccoli and kohlrabi in my spring garden. I have no doubt this was not the only rabbit in my prairie. It occurred to me it might be a mama with a late-season nest of babies hidden elsewhere.

After considering that rabbit for quite some time, I stopped mowing all together. After a hard freeze, I may go back and finish the task. But for now, I'll just let nature take it course. My prairie should have diversity of flora and fauna. Even if it means rabbits.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It's not too late

At this time of the year, I think of the end of the garden, the end of flowers. Roll up the hose, clean off the spent flower stems, bring house plants back inside. Fall coming on. Even winter. Who would not think this way after the cold, wet, wind of the past few days?

Most of the prairie has turned brown. The crab grass has sown its millions of seeds. The barnyard grass, too. But my prairie is full of surprises and not ready to give up yet.

This flower popped open just in time for my October prairie update. It is, to the best of my flower identification ability, a Common Sunflower. When I am so eager for, and excited by, each new flower, I am dismayed to find someone has labeled my latest pleasure 'common.' To me, it is anything but, coming as it does when I am chomping at the bit for each new plant, each colorful bloom.

Speaking of chomping, this plant has several buds. It had even more before some foraging night creature nibbled a few stems. Ah well. All God's creatures have to eat.

Remarkably to me - most likely because I don't know any better - the Partridge Peas, those first yellow flowers on fern-like stems to appear in my prairie back in June, are still putting out new blossoms. A pretty delight.

Though I may be moving along in my mind to the next seasons, fall and winter, it is fun to see that my prairie does not think it is too late for flowers. Yet another prairie reminder not to rush ahead too quickly. It's not too late to enjoy this moment.