THE WRITER’S LIFE
Roadside Gardens, Birdfeeders, Wind Chimes…Silence
-By Norbert Blei
Though I’ve never been much of a gardener, flower or vegetable, I appreciate their presence in my midst, whether from a distance or visiting friends with flower gardens glowing in color throughout the seasons, not to mention gifts from vegetable gardens–asparagus, beans, spinach, lettuce, green peppers, onions, strawberries, raspberries…and oh those sweet juicy red tomatoes.
But it’s the flowers I find especially appealing every year down my road, which I still can’t walk the distance I’m accustomed to…still too exhausted to reach my usual turn-around spot, heading back to the house.
I missed my old neighbor, Charley Root’s field of sweeping, deep-gold coreopsis waving hello in the morning breeze this year. Never saw one prairie rose. Or one yellow lady slipper. But the daisies are dancing as I walk by. The spring trillium, long gone, remembered in my short walks. The delicate Queen Anne’s Lace is beginning to make its presence, and mullein plants reaching up to bloom as well. The myriad of other small flowering plants/weeds which I could easily identify if I could only remember each name or looked them up in my wildflower books. I seem to prefer for now instead their nameless colorful shapes, their small moments of surprise, pleasure and harmony along my wild roadside . If only the town would stop mowing them down just as they reach perfection. I wish for more summer mornings of sweet scented clover—a wild fragrance most divine. And dearest to me, of all, a blossoming of fiery, petaled tongues I await each year: two thick patches of tiger lilies bursting in the late afternoon sun, flowers which I ‘protect’ with a sign: DO NOT CUT. (Always remembering my heated argument years ago with the town’s roadside maintenance man who hollered back at me from the tractor as he mowed them down: “Dem ain’t flowers! Dem is weeds!”)
I speak then for the presence and preservation of ubiquitous roadside gardens that give each year freely, in full measure, scattered bouquets of color, form, and scent, just waiting to be ‘taken in.’ No gardening required by the onlooker, only an occasional prayer for rain in a dry season. They are my true love. The natural, the always surprisingly predictable, which sustains me spring, summer and fall—even winter, with the skeletal sculpture of the milkweed plant, reaching above the dead fields, each plant graced with fresh, soft, white snow beckoning a moment of beauty and remembrance in so spectral a season. I speak too beyond the private pleasure of my own roadside garden. There are those times when I take to the car for the pure pleasure of ‘the hunt’– seeking certain swatches of wild flowers in bloom at those certain times when I know exactly where to find them on certain Door County back roads, which will remain in the privacy of my own watch.
Often these days, going or coming from the coop, I pause for a momentary rest in my old rocker on the deck. I contemplate the afternoon, the early evening …checking on all manner of natural things which give me pause, give me comfort–the sunlight, the trees, the wind…especially in these trying times of regaining good health and energy. I wait and watch for the birds at my feeder. Whatever their nature and movement, I’m glad to see them stopping by at my place. I delight in robins splashing in the bird bath. Wary woodpeckers checking in. The constant going and coming of chickadees. The plaintive call of mourning doves pecking at cracked corn on my gravel drive. Such pleasure and delight of feathered creatures, their airy freedom of wings which I sometimes follow to the tops of trees, or the overarching blue, where I might catch a solitary white gull, aglow in the sun, heading toward the lake down the road from me. And just yesterday, a sudden flock of goldfinches lighting up the yard, flashing their irresistible color as they descend upon my feeder like a blessing.
Sometimes these natural meditation moments on the deck are enhanced by wind chimes…a Zen call to silence impossible to describe except for that delicate sound in the company of soft breezes which take one to that solitary home again, every bare room and window open to peace, serenity, a sanctuary of nothingness. Nothing more, nothing else. Only now.
There are times too, when today’s technology might rear its ‘disturbing’ head, calling for a different form of meditation: an escape into music: classical, jazz, folk, opera. Mozart to Miles, Bach to Brubeck…pop, big bands…James Taylor, Maria Callas… I admit to bowing to the times, owning a magic i-pod with AM/FM (the daily pleasure of public radio), and presently more than five hundred pieces of music, only a touch away. I fix my small headphones. Go to ‘albums’ on the pod.. Hit ‘shuffle’. Close my eyes…say goodbye for now to the birds, the green trees, the blue skies, and let the music wash over me…carried away by beautiful voices, lyrics, instruments, rhythm…where time disappears.
And sometimes. late afternoons, I go into the house to rest, to try again to ‘nap.’ I climb the stairs to the upstairs, front bedroom–my old studio/office which I occupied for years when both kids slept in bunk beds in the same downstairs bedroom. A small room facing south, two small windows level with my desk, a funky little room I loved to write and paint in (actually a dormer) with all kinds of strange angled walls and filled with light.
I stretch out on comfortably on my back, arms behind my head, eyes focused lazily out both windows open wide to the wind, taking it all in…the tops of trees, blue sky, rolling clouds, bird song…everything out there in fervent conversation …maples in dappled sunlight talking to the birch, beech, oak, and ash, waving to one another, swaying in harmony, joyfully turning over their leaves to an under-light of glowing sun, flashing one way, then the other, tangling the stems of playful branches as stronger gusts of wind take them by surprise and carry them even higher to the heavens…the pines ponderously in place, stifled sentinels to the spectacle of the play of light and wind.
All this invites me into a silence, the language each season speaks, to further define itself from wood pecker chatter to howling winter wind…to the ease of slumber when a spring rain may patter on the roof…then a deeper slumber as I drift off to maybe Europe Bay, down the next road from me, where the gentle summer-blue waters of Lake Michigan lap the shore, ripple the sand in their old lullaby rhythm of back and forth, in and out, here and now, today and tomorrow… and tomorrow and tomorrow…
Writer, poet and teacher, Norbert Blei learned his craft in Chicago, but produced his best writing about the people and beauty of Door County, his home for 40 years. Famously, he wrote almost every day in a converted chicken coop near Europe Lake. Among his many books, Door Way is a must read. Blei died in 2013.