Happy Day of Independence

“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4,
not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House
in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees,
the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.
You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

― Erma Bombeck


(my little lawn flag, it’s just a tad southern in its outlook / Julie Cook / 2017)

Here are a few thoughts to ponder this day of all things celebration as we recall the
countless acts of bravery and sacrifice offered so freely by those who have given so much
for each of us to enjoy not only this day but to savor our very way of life….

Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.
Thomas Jefferson

“I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder,
as the opening of a grand scene and design in providence,
for the illumination of the ignorant and the emancipation of the slavish part of
mankind all over the earth.”

John Adams

“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent,
tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example;
to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you;
to yourself, respect;
to all others, charity.”

Benjamin Franklin

It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God,
to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits,
and humbly to implore his protection and favors.

General George Washington

Bad men cannot make good citizens.
It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.
A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom.
No free government, or the blessings of liberty,
can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice,
moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue;
and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Patrick Henry

God grants liberty only to those who love it,
and are always ready to guard it and defend it.

Daniel Webster

erosion

Today’s average American is more apt to rebel against a tennis shoe
not coming in the right color than against the slow erosion
of our democratic freedom.

Marianne Williamson

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(a major project at home/ red Georgia clay / Julie Cook / 2016)

It’s not the moon.
It’s not some foreign land
It’s not a desert….

Yet it feels very much like a desert.
Dry
Rocky
Dusty
With deadly heat radiating up and off.

This forbidding alien landscape, however, is merely an excavated and grated bank in our yard.
Remember our yard is a former pasture.
This is a large, long, dry, hot, rocky bank.
A daunting side project…a resulting spill off project, stemming from a larger project.
A side project, now a major project, demanding immediate attention.

There has been no rain…
Zero…
Nothing of consequence in over a month.
The word drought comes to mind….
And with a large mountain and wall of dirt needing covering….
I am concerned…

If it’s not planted or covered soon, any thunderstorm could spell disaster.

High winds could wickedly whip up the dirt with destructive results.
A downpour would turn a dirt bank into a raging red river of mud.

The only solution is to plant some sort of erosion barrier.
Planting bushy shrubs, adding low growing spreading plants, a few small tress…
and lots and lots of pine straw.
Then the watering upon watering as no real rain is in sight…

A lot of work, but necessary to stop destructive erosion.

After having had a little chat with my fellow southern blogging buddy Wally,
over on Truth in Palmyra ( https://truthinpalmyra.wordpress.com ),
regarding my dilemma of having to get this bank planted,
Wally jokingly told me “whatever you do, don’t plant kudzu!”

Any true southerner knows kudzu.

That noxious weed-like vine that covers the south like….well…
journalists covering this current election business…
Fast,
zealous,
and suffocating….

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(Image courtesy of the Lexington Herald Leader)

It was just a matter of time I suppose…
Time before a Southerner, such as myself, should bring up our dirty little secret…

Kudzu.

According to Wikipedia…
Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is an invasive plant in the United States. It has been spreading in the southern U.S. at the rate of 150,000 acres (610 km2) annually, “easily outpacing the use of herbicide spraying and mowing, as well increasing the costs of these controls by $6 million annually”. This claim, however, has recently been disputed, the United States Forest Service estimating an increase of only 2,500 acres per year. Its introduction has produced devastating environmental consequences. This has earned it the nickname, “The vine that ate the South”.

The kudzu plant was introduced to the United States in 1876 at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Kudzu was introduced to the Southeast in 1883 at the New Orleans Exposition. The vine was widely marketed in the Southeast as an ornamental plant to be used to shade porches, and in the first half of the 20th century, kudzu was distributed as a high-protein content cattle fodder and as a cover plant to prevent soil erosion. The Soil Erosion Service recommended the use of kudzu to help control erosion of slopes which led to the government-aided distribution of 85 million seedlings and government-funded plantings of kudzu which paid $19.75 per hectare. By 1946, it was estimated that 1,200,000 hectares (3,000,000 acres) of kudzu had been planted. When boll weevil infestations and the failure of cotton crops drove farmers to move from rural to urban districts, kudzu plantings were left unattended. The climate and environment of the Southeastern United States allowed the kudzu to grow virtually unchecked. In 1953 the United States Department of Agriculture removed kudzu from a list of suggested cover plants and listed it as a weed in 1970. By 1997, the vine was placed on the “Federal Noxious Weed List”.Today, kudzu is estimated to cover 3,000,000 hectares (7,400,000 acres) of land in the southeastern United States, mostly in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and Mississippi.

Back in the day, kudzu seemed like a good idea…
It was going to help,
Yet it was left unchecked,
It got out of control…
and now it’s a disaster…

Oddly, or rather with impeccable timing… the morning I was to focus on my sea of red dirt, the morning’s reading was Luke 8:4-15
the parable about the Sower…

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand.’

“This is the meaning of the parable:
The seed is the word of God.
Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

A morning’s parable, a Heavenly word,
coupled with a giant massive dry area of red dirt needing attention….
was not lost on my thoughts.

I wondered what it is that I was currently doing to stop any erosion of my heart, of my faith, of my spirit and soul…especially in light of the current raging tempests in this world…

The daily assault of violence and hatred…the insidious seducing of our weary psyches by our ancient adversary…the twists and turns of what seemed to be truth now offered up as the placating lies of self.

What of those painfully dry periods of life…those times of isolation, loneliness, emptiness…

Was I allowing the storms of terrorism, violence, and hatred to batter an unprotected, unprepared,
dried-up and dusty spirit?
Had I allowed God’s words to spill forth, only to fall upon a hardened dried-up heart?
Had I prepared, shoring up my faith?
Had I nurtured the faith…
protecting it,
watering it,
fertilizing it…
Had I cared for it in the quiet and calm times, readying it and myself, so that there would be a reservoir of strength and plenty in now this time of grave uncertainty?

And lastly I wondered if I had nurtured that spiritual relationship, that inextricable bond between Creator and created… had I spent, do I spend, the same sort of time and energy on that relationship, because that’s what it is—a relationship, as I was now spending and investing in and on this red bank rising before me….

So much now needing attention, as I grabbed a shovel under a relentless baking sun…

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
1 Corinthians 10:13

out of sync

This search for happiness can knock us out of sync with God. As the life of Jesus makes clear, keeping in sync with God is about obedience. Any other pursuit will get in the way.
Franklin Graham

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(the grackles are back / Julie Cook / 2015)

A common visitor to the yard, in the quiet dull grey winter months, is the common grackle.
A lanky gregarious bird who reminds one of that over the top boisterous relative who comes periodically to visit, wreaking havoc on one’s usually quiet, calm and orderly world.
The grackles swoop in by the hundreds, like a giant black undulating cloud, shape shifting against th bleak cold backdrop of sky.
Loud,
noisy,
obnoxious. . .

So imagine my confusion today when that oh so familiar black squawky loud cloud of winter descended on the yard in the middle of a hot, sweltering August morning.
Hummmm. . .

They swooped in by the hundreds—darting through the early morning sprinklers spraying a desperately thirsty lawn. They chased the regular birds from the feeders. They pecked and groused at the mourning doves. They filled the trees like a million black frigidity leaves. They devoured the stale bread I’d thrown out for the crows. Even the rabbits ran for cover when the shifting black cloud landed, blanketing the lawn like a heavy black curtain.
The silent genteel Southern morning calm now punctuated with the herky jerky jabbering din of chaos.

As to why this unseasonal visitation, I can’t exactly say—but I will say that it has brought a bit of lively vigor to this otherwise oppressively hot, dog day, sensory dulling, summer’s end. . .
I can’t help but feel a bit out of sync with this topsy turvy season business and wonder what, or more precisely who, just might show up next. . . .

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Stormy Weather

“I like to hear a storm at night. It is so cosy to snuggle down among the blankets and feel that it can’t get at you.”
― L.M. Montgomery

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do.
Golda Meir

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(ominous clouds as tornado sirens howl on a stormy Sunday Georgia morning / Julie Cook / 2015)

“. . .Life is bare
gloom and misery every where
Stormy weather
Just can’t get my poor self together
I’m weary all the time
The time
So weary all the time”

2nd stanza / Stormy Weather

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There’s nothing like listening to that beautifully melodic and mesmerizing voice of the one and only Lena Horne.
I loved / love Lena. . .
Ms Horne was born to a generation of singers who sadly have come and gone.
Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James. . .
Soulful storytellers whose beauty and life’s trials, as well as their gift of song, could stir the deepest of emotions in even the most casual of listeners.

Lena Horne defined both class and grace.
Although being born in Brooklyn and spending most of her life in New York and Pennsylvania, Ms Horne spent a good bit of her childhood living in Fort Valley, Georgia—of which I suppose lead her to acquire that markedly distinct sultry southernesque drawl she’d call upon for wooing audiences and movie producers alike.

Today’s weather is a fitting tribute to the woeful lament Ms. Horne made famous, Stormy Weather.
First performed at the famous New York Cotton Club in 1933 yet a song made immortal when performed by Ms Horne in 1943 in the movie of the same name. . .

“. . .don’t know why, there’s no sun up in the sky. . .
Stormy Weather. . .”

I didn’t need Ms Horne however, to remind me of the current weather condition as the early morning wail of the tornado sirens was sign enough.
The sirens wailed, the phones buzzed with alerts and the television was rife with the warnings of impending doom. . .as in “SEEK SHELTER NOW!!!”

Luckily the “rotation” the doppler radar was indicating was remanning up in the clouds and thankfully had not descended to the ground.

It was to be on this tumultuous Sunday morning, as it is on many Sunday mornings, my husband was to treat me to breakfast out. As in I wasn’t going to have to cook it. It’s the only morning he’s not at work. As in he’s actually home. And of all the little treats in life. . . it’s breakfast out that I enjoy most. There’s just something special about heading out on a lazy stress free morning to some inviting little restaurant or tiny cafe, as the heady scent of bacon mingling with fresh coffee greets all at the door.

And so it was on this stormy, springtime morning I was to be treated to a nice breakfast out. The only problem was that an impending tornado was in the middle of my path to bacon and pancakes.
UGH!

The weatherman on the news was zooming in on a fierce looking storm hovering about 5 miles south down the road from our house. It’s amazing how they can pinpoint storms with such vivid accuracy. A Tornado Warning had been issued, the sirens were wailing and my stomach was growling.
We waited.
I peered out the windows.
The rain beat down.
No lightning thank goodness.
I hate lightning.
No winds.
Just black skies with torrential rains.

All of which got me thinking. . .
How often in life are we excited, full of anticipation, looking forward to something special, when suddenly, out of the blue, we get blindsided, we’re thrown a curve ball, we hit the proverbial bump in the road, we hit the wall? There’s a glitch that rears its ugly head in our best laid plans. Our assumptions for a complete follow-through are not what we had expected or anticipated.

Rather than savoring the smooth sailing toward a treat, a reward, a trip, a special event, a magnanimous moment we’re faced with an impending storm, a train wreck, a disaster, a detour. Our attentions shift, our guard gets up, plan B must be implemented, and we hunker down.
We wait.

And as it so happens with the worst of storms–the rains fall, the clouds lighten, the winds shift, the energies exhaust and the dangers pass.
With or without repercussions.
At which time we emerge bleary eyed, nerves shaken, but resolve in tact.
We’re ready to proceed, to continue, forward.
Maybe we have to pick up a few pieces along the way, maybe our plans are delayed. . .
yet nevertheless our eyes remain fixed. . .fixed on our hopes and dreams which remain down the road where we had yearned to travel in the first place.

So on this new morning to this new week, may you keep your eyes on the prize. . .
whatever that prize may be for you. . .
May you remain prepared for what life may throw in the middle of your travels
And may you remember that we all have stormy weather at some point in our lives
but that the storms will always, eventually, pass. . .

For the love of a tree

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. . .
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live. . .”

Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

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(the anticipation of hopefulness, a pecan bud / Julie Cook / 2015)

First I wish to clarify this post with a tiny disclaimer—I am not a huge fan of nuts.
I’m not talking about the crazy people nut variety but rather the product of a tree nut variety.
I don’t really care for eating nuts. I only like nuts in limited quantities and then only salted. Maybe a nice Sole Almondine with an unctuous berure blanc sauce, perhaps a tasty handful of sugared and spiced holiday pecans, or a few hearty walnuts scattered with a bit of blue cheese alongside a poached pear or two. . .but that’s about it. None of this pecan pie business, no nuts on my ice-cream sundays, no nut dotted fruit cakes, no handful of protein packed healthy snacks. . .
So the question today begging to be asked—why this latest endeavor of mine?. . .yet but before we can address latest endeavors, let’s turn our attention to trees shall we. . .

I suppose for a true southern girl such as myself, nothing speaks more of the South than either a majestic oak draped in the gossamer lace of spanish moss or that of a stately grove of pecan tress creating a sun dappled canopy, rich and cool, during the lazy humid summer afternoons indicative to this deep south of mime.

I have always wanted to have a home surrounded by and nestled amongst a grove of pecan trees. The pecan tree, unlike the towering protectively strong massive oak, is a bit more demure as it arches more delicately outward verses stately and upward. A pecan tree wants to envelope you, wrapping you in its charming branches—tenderly and gently holding you and comforting you with its wind whispered lullabies. It is no surprise therefore, that my husband is quite accustomed to my wistful sighs whenever we find ourselves driving in the southern part of the state as there is nothing but pecan orchard after orchard for as far as the eye can see.

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(photo courtesy Sugarland Farms)

Driving throughout much of middle and southern Georgia, passerby’s are often struck by the serenity of the never-ending pecan orchards. The pecan is big business here in Georgia. It is reported that one-third of the nation’s pecans are produced in Georgia with an average of 88 million pounds produced annually. So I suppose it’s terribly unnatural that this very southern Georgia girl does not particularly care for munching on pecans nor any other nut for that matter. My disdain for eating nuts however has never diminished my love and appreciation for the tree.

When we first built our house nearly 16 years ago, we always said we’d plant some pecan trees. The house is perched in the middle of 5 acres. . .a perfect setting for a small pecan orchard. Yet I suppose at our age, my husband and I pretty much figured that we would never live long enough to see “an orchard” to fruition. That being said however, my husband often fondly reflects. . . “I spent my life enjoying picking up and eating the pecans from trees that were planted long before I was living, it’s only fitting that someone one day should enjoy the pecans from a tree I planted”

So with that mindset at the forefront of our thoughts, we got busy this past week with this pay it forward endeavor of our very own orchard.

Not knowing the first thing about this planting business of nut tress much less any sort of big tree, we ventured forth, quite wet behind the ears, but with the resolute spirit of anticipation and hope.
Last Tuesday we drove almost 2 hours northward to Cartersville, Georgia to a tree nursery in order to procure our trees.
The nice nursery folks told us we’d need two types of pecan trees in order to provide cross pollination, otherwise trees of only one variety may never produce nuts containing any nutmeat.
We opted on the Pawnee and Sumner pecans.

We bought 15 6 foot trees, bare root, and grafted–hauling them back home in the back of the truck.
They were bundled up in plastic with an added gel goo to help keep the roots from drying out, that were then wrapped up in a burlap sheet. One look at the motley muddy bundles, my husband assumed the worst, that we’d just spent a small fortune on two big bundles of dead sticks. Yet the nursery assured us that the trees were indeed alive and well and would need to get in the ground as soon as possible.

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Once home we gingerly placed the tree bundles on the back porch until we had a full day to dedicate to their planting. The greatest issue at hand was going to be digging the holes, which was to prove to be no easy task.

We already had a manually operated arguer, yet at 8 inches wide, we quickly realized we’d never get the 2 foot wide by 2.5 foot deep hole the trees would require.
We had to find an arguer that would fit on our tractor.
Already investing a small fortune first in the trees, we added to that investment with the purchase of a much larger arguer from our local Tractor Supply Company—the only problem was we had to figure out how to assemble this monstrosity of farm equipment, mounting it to the tractor ourselves.

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Once the auger was rigged up to the tractor, we had to run enough water hoses to be able to reach the planting sight as the trees would require a massive amount of water just to get them in the ground. I screwed together three 100ft hoses and pulled them out to where we would be digging the holes. Pecan trees need their space—anywhere from 30 to 60 feet apart. We planted ours 30ft apart lengthwise and 60ft widthwise giving us 4 wide rows.

My husband began drilling out the holes.

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Now I know you tree experts out there are screaming that our holes needed to be wider, but we did the best we could and are praying for the best! There is only so much these two older tired bodies can do!
The trees need enough depth as not to bend the tap root—the main base root of the tree–of which the nursery folks appear to have trimmed.

The nursery folks gave us a helpful printout from the University of Georgia’s Agriculture Dept regarding the planting of pecan trees. The instructions explained that the hole was to be filled half full with water, once the tree was centered in place, then back fill the hole with the extracted dirt as this would help to eliminate any air pockets. So we were basically burying a hole full of water with a stick poking out. . .hummmmm

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The manual instructs that one “should not tramp down the soil as the roots need oxygen.” How in the heck does a drowned root find oxygen in non tramped down water logged soil?!

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It took us about 8 hours to get all 15 trees in the ground. This is when we figured out that we had marked off space for 18 trees and planted only 15–which means, another trip to procure 3 more trees.

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The trees need lots of water in order to get established. So I’ll be schlepping out the 300 feet of hose weekly, if not more often, once it warms up in order to keep everyone nice and moist. The next thing I have to do is to paint the base of each tree with white latex paint. This is to ward off any insect infestations and to deter deer from nibbling on the tender little trees.

Now that the planting is finished, all that remains is to water, hope and pray that 15 trees can forgive two novice planters, as I sweetly envision, many years from now, the wistful thoughts of those who will pass by my own little pecan grove.

Next on tap will be a few apple trees. And I must say, the nursery had some beautiful olive trees—I have a feeling my next nursery run will find me bringing home more than 3 more pecan trees.
And as for my earlier disclaimer, I will not be going into the nut business necessarily, but more aptly, I hope to be going into the tree business, as there is just nothing quite as lovely as a tree. . .
Here is to the hope of growth. . .

Memory

Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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(an old home-place in the middle of nowhere western Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

The old metal spring frame screeches obnoxiously with the slightest turn and twist.
Eyes blink in the inky blackness haplessly trying to focus.
No street lights, no city glow, just the twinkling of a million stars filling an endless sky.

The mattress thin and lumpy, ancient army surplus, offers little in the way of comfort.
The unzipped sleeping bag certainly not refreshing in the stifling humid summer’s night air.
There’s no breeze, no movement, no relief. . .only the shrill symphony of sound produced by the profusion of an endless sea of tree frogs.

Lying in the darkness, with arms folded under head, staring upward at the nothingness in the tiny musty room, pleasant thoughts race across the expanse of time.
Old wooden planks pop and groan recalling the countless steps which once trod over the roughly hewn surface.
Fading laughter mixes with the steady hum of cicada.

The once binding tie of whispered secrets now mingle together with the rising smoke from the countless crackling fires.
Age old stones, stacked artfully together generations earlier, blackened by years of thick heavy soot, offer a warm, smokey, familiar welcome.

The intimate faces, which form a memorable past, collide in the middle of this darkened night, with the new faces of a current life.
The difference between now and then spans across an endless abyss of time and space.
The experiences of “then”, which make the current moments of “now”, merge mindlessly together resulting in the singleness of one

Lying in the darkness on a hot humid night, with all that was and with all that is, tenderly forming the basis of the dreams yet dreamt, heavy eyes now close as muscles give in to the weariness of time, while a magical dance of a thousand fireflies sparkles, beyond an old broken window, as the singleness of now is made whole by the union of then.