Thursday, May 26, 2016
When storms gather
Just outside my window, our acre-sized backyard is taking shape. The first year, it was weed pandemonium. We put in a species of field grass way out back, a species meant to grow long, if so desired. I tried to transplant some ditch stuff now and then in that field grass and mostly failed. No, totally failed. Mostly what we did all summer was battle weeds. We had no lawn, waited for September to plant. "Twas a mess.
The next year we put in a couple of garden boxes and discovered those dang ground squirrels living in the rocky retaining walls loved lettuce even more than flowers. But they let the tomatoes alone, so we had salsa for half the winter. Some beans too, and a dozen peppers. Newly retired, we'd become gardeners. Not an unfamiliar path.
Meanwhile, that field grass grew as thick as promised. I tried another round transplants from the ditch--Iowa's own prairie rose, even some milkweed for the monarchs. Mostly failure. We're retired rookies.
Last week a friend, an agronomist in point of fact, showed me how to sew native prairie grass and wildflower seeds into a chunk of our acre that for the last two years was alfalfa. I'm waiting for signs of life, ever hopeful. But people tell me that maintaining restored prairie is a ton of work. We're going to try.
Last fall we finally put down a balloon-shaped patio of pavers that changed the look of the place. This spring I transplanted tons of hand-me-downs from friends--bee balm, spider wort, coreopsis, They're all doing nicely, not that transplanting them required a degree in horticulture.
The well-worked soil in the garden boxes felt like a treasure when I put in the tomatoes, and yesterday a load of perennials showed up from the greenhouse. I put in a dozen and a half last night, just before dark, just west of the deck, just before the storm.
Things are starting to take shape is what I'm saying. What's just outside our windows is at least something of what we've imagined it might be, and it looks good, the sun just now arising.
Okay, I'm sore this morning, but then I'm sore every morning; but what's a retirement for if you can't do what the heck you want to--and we love working out back.
Tell you what, here's a little gallery I just snapped, just as the sun came out from last night's storm clouds.
There's the garden, two new boxes, the smaller ones, new this year. The closest plants, the ones surrounded by mulch between the pots, is the grass that won the west, Big Blue Stem. We hope they tower over everything by August, like the monarchs they are.
We're supposed to pray for that Red Bud everyday, so says a green-thumbed retiree who came here to check things out a week or so ago. So we do. That stretch of bald soil behind it and in front of that old bale out back is the plot now hand-planted with original prairie stuff.
Here's what I put in last night, hasta heaven and a bunch of other greenhouse perennials.
Then it rained. Again. Hard. Very. Hard. That picture, way up top, I took of a setting sun two nights ago, after another storm. Storms have been menu specials of late. They sweep in nightly, in fact--big, bad ones, scary ones. No one's talking drought.
Last night was downright rancorous--first, all kinds of warnings. Then, after dark, the wind came up as if out of nowhere and knocked over a lawn chair on the deck--that hardly ever happens. Even in a new house, the scary noises create shivers. A bedroom door downstairs kept shaking, even though no windows were open. It felt as if malevolent spirits had come in under cover of all that gusting.
I couldn't help fear for what's outside. It was hard not to worry. All that work. I could see it all flattened, shredded, done for.
My wife's parents, just married after the war, moved out in the country, where Dad wanted to farm, a dream he must have carried with him from Normandy to Berlin, fixing jeeps in the motor pool just behind the Allied front. He wanted to farm in ways so many Iowa boys did and some still do. He had his own dreams for what would grow in his forty of this same Iowa ground.
Late 40s. The crop was in, the plants marched straight as GIs up and down the fields when one of those angry Great Plains storms blew in a reign of hail that, in just minutes, wiped them out, took out the whole crop and sent Dad into town to a garage in order to make enough to put food on the table.
Three miles away maybe, as the crow flies, a bit less than seventy years ago, July something probably. He's soon to be 97, but if I'd ask, I'd bet he'd still remember the month.
What do I know about storms, I asked myself? What do I know about loss? I was worried about was hastas. You can buy them anywhere these days, on sale.
It's perfectly calm this morning, the radiant sun the kind of blessing the Yanktons, who once roamed here, came to worship. Here in my backyard, a lawn chair is tipped over on the deck.
Sometimes storms come along so tough they wipe people out. That's what I heard, what this retired man needed to, last night in voice of the violent, rushing wind.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:43 AM