Unblemished

“It is far more important to me to preserve an unblemished conscience than to compass any object however great.”
William Ellery Channing

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(new beauties snapped on the IPhone at the local garden center / Julie Cook / 2015)

A trip to the garden shop, especially this time of year, is nothing short of mesmerizing topped off with a color filled overload of spectacular.
Rows upon rows of picture perfect annuals, perennials, biennials and any other ennial you can imagine. . .
Talk about things that sell themselves.
Who wouldn’t want to walk away with a cart, or two, filled to the brim with the likes of such beauties. . .large, tall, spiky, showy, red, blue, white, yellow, orange, pink, purple, lavender, green, black, two tones, monotone, sweet, sassy, demure, austere, even those of the exotic bordering on the erotic. . .

These flowers and plants are perfect.
Nary a blemish to be found.
Perfectly watered.
Fertilized to perfection.
Protected from wind, rain, and the relentless burn of the sun
Picture perfect and gorgeous.

But just get them home. . .
Get them repotted and replanted,
Add your own special TLC, step back and bask in the glory. . .
That is until the blooms begin to fade, eventually dying–oh did you forget to deadhead?
The leaves curl or turn yellow.
Wooops, you forgot to water when you went away for the weekend. .
Talk about drying out.
Looks like you over watered. . .
And it actually died from root rot.
Applied too little or too much fertilizer. . .
Wait, whoa. . .what about those Japanese beetles, aphids, white flies. . .
and the birds—who knew they liked to eat those flowers or was that the deer, or chipmunks,
or rabbits, or armadillos or. . . .

Things always look better in the store as there is an army in place to ensure such.
As in it obviously takes a massive village of caregivers
to keep everything prime for the shopping public. . .

For those of us who are Christian believers. . .
do you remember how it felt when you first made that conscious decision to be a follower of Christ?
That moment in time when you were brought to you knees. . .
Do you remember those first couple of days of the giddy excitement?
You felt clean and no longer bruised or full of blemishes
You basked in the warm glow of joy, peace, acceptance.
Your burdens had been reduced and you actually felt good for the first time in a long time.
You felt strong and bold, unafraid.
You felt like the teflon king or queen, as in nothing any one threw your way would stick or hurt.
You were walking on cloud nine.

And then, without your cognizant acknowledgement, life crept back into the picture.
What once seemed like a life of endless joy and energy gave way to frustration and irritability.
You quickly discovered you weren’t exactly indefensible or indestructible.
Your significant other decided to leave.
Your boss gave you your walking papers.
Your kids got in really bad trouble.
You got sick.
You got in a wreck.
You got robbed.
That joyous high that you had been riding seemed to crash right down on top of you. . .

“Oh where is your God now” they whisper?
What?
Does Mr / Ms religious have a temper?
Did you just curse?
Are you feeling guilty for thinking all those bad things about those who have hurt you?
What happened to all that forgiveness and pie in the sky loving of yours. . .
All of this as the bitterness creeps slowly back in.
You’re heard to murmur sarcastically “thanks a lot God”
A slick voice is heard encouraging you that you’ll be better off without Him.
“Forget about Him, see how He deserted you, let you down. . .He wasn’t really real. . .”
“Come back to your old ways, your old friends, your old life. . .you were comfortable there, accepted. . .”
As in. . . all the current misery is loving all the present company. . .

I once heard a sermon where the priest reminded everyone in attendance, who had decided to establish or reestablish their relationship with Jesus, not to be surprised if they actually lost their job the following day. . .
Hummmm. . .

Was that what you signed up for?

Be mindful. . .
Where the Sprit works, there also dwells Satan.
A power struggle ensues for each and every heart and soul.
The faithful will be battered and hit with all manner of harm.
For ours is a fallen world.
We cannot change that fact.

We are like the pretty plants and flowers we bring home,. . .those that are so full of hope.
Yet we get a hold of ourselves and things don’t go so well—either by our own devices and ignorance, or at the hands of Life which is beyond our control, delivering a one two punch.

Doubt
Despair
Hate
Resentment
Pride
All of which rapidly creep in whispering into our ears the endless lies. . .

But all is not lost.
For God has never walked away despite those lies we are told.
He has never left, never given up. . .
on you or I. . .

Yet let us be reminded once again, we live in a fallen world.
A battle zone of Good and Evil
Yet thankfully we live with a God who Loves without ceasing.
He tells us to get back up, again and agin. . .and to simply follow Him
Never mind the bruises, blemishes, cuts and scrapes. . .
He tells us to gird ourselves with the armor of Truth.
His armor, His Truth.

However, for any of that to be true, to be real. . .
You’d have to believe in Good and Evil
You’d need to admit that there is indeed a God in Heaven
Or that there is evan a Heaven
Or a Hell
Or a Satan. . .

You’d have to admit that the soul of man hangs in the balance
You’d have admit that there is a Divine Design and not a random design
You’d have to let go of self, ego and pride
You’d have to be willing to become less in order to get more. . .

Many may scoff that unlike those unblemished flowers in the garden shops, ours is a life
full of imperfection, struggles and challenges, falls and scrapes, bruises and blemishes. . .
Yet just like those well tended and pampered flowers,
We too have an arsenal, a team waiting in the wings offering aid, assistance, defense from the struggles and trials of life. . .

We have a Master Gardener who has given us His all,
In order to afford each of us the chance to not merely survive,
but rather the gift to thrive . . .

The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. . .
Psalm 92:12-13

The magnolia 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.
Hermann Hesse

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(magnolia bloom / Julie Cook / 2015)

Growing up, we all have a measuring stick.
A benchmark of growth.
A point of reference for progress.
A door frame, a yard stick, a section of wall ripe with the marks of hoped for and greatly anticipated advancement.

Even when I was still in the classroom, my kids marked their various heights along the doorframe of the classroom’s door.
Who was taller this year verses the heights from year’s past.
Ever onward and upward. . .

Today was not easy.
Another trying day.
Sweet Dad.
Yet Gloria is struggling.
Transition and growth, that was once exciting, is now painfully dreaded.

Funny how we are always in such a hurry to “grow up”
yet suddenly one day we wake up,
wanting nothing more to do with it, preferring simply to stop it all–
Racing frantically backwards to the blissful days of youthful abandon.
When nothing hurt, nothing mattered and everything worked as life was nothing but good.
Where did the time go. . .

Looking out the window from the sunporch, I noticed a lone bloom on the massive magnolia out back.
I know this massively tall tree.
I remember when 50 feet was just a tiny sapling.

I excuse myself to go out back to take a picture.

When do those things which once seemed so expansive and endless
become small and constrained?
Standing in the backyard, my presence fills the space that once seemed so vast.
Vegetation has moved closer to the house.
The monkey grass use to be further back. . .
I don’t remember that carpet of ivy. . .
Where did the pine straw islands disappear to?
And the magnolia tree. . .

For whatever reason, my grandmother who I had spent the weekend with, decided to bring
me back to mom with a magnolia sapling in tow.
The sapling was tiny and leggy.
At 7, I towered over the plant.
“And this was to become a tree,” I mused,
Not impressed I “humphed” away rather uninterested.

The tree now towers over the landscape.
It’s out of place.
Not harmonious with everything else in the yard or surrounding yards.
It dwarfs everything around it.
It’s far out lived both my grandmother and mother.
At this rate it might just outlive me.

I marked my life by this tree.
We played backyard football around this once tender plant,
Making certain we didn’t hit it with the ball.
It was a reference point or boundary during many a childhood game.
“Don’t go past the magnolia tree”. . .
“The base is the magnolia tree”. . .

It was mother’s tree.
A gift from one mother to another mother
As oddly I now seem to be a distant guardian.

So on this most difficult of days
Finding the lone bloom beckoning me out,
Out to the yard, to a place I’d not simply wandered through in years,
As it’s really no longer my space to wander. . .
I felt a deep sense of comfort.
As perhaps both Mimi and Mom were somehow still standing there,
Wondering where in the heck to plant a tiny little sapling in a vast backyard. . .
Which in turn would greet me these 50 years later in a now seemingly small backyard
With the gift of welcomed comfort from a single lone bloom.

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Pretty little redhead

“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair.”
― L.M. Montgomery

Everybody thinks I’m crazy.
Yesiree, that’s me, that’s me.
That’s what I’m cracked up to be.
I chop a hole in every tree.
Knock on wood.
Well, knock on wood.
So, I’m crazy, so what?
What can I do?
So are you!

Woody Woodpecker 1941

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(red headed woodpecker / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(1947 Woody Woodpecker illustration)

One of my favorite birds to visit the yard. . .
Along with one of my favorite cartoon characters when I was little. . .
Here’s to colorful and very happy May Monday. . .

Mother’s Roses

“Even more than the time when she gave birth, a mother feels her greatest joy when she hears others refer to her son as a wise learned one.”
― Thiruvalluvar

“Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues — faith and hope.”
― Charles Dickens

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(Mother’s tea roses / Julie Cook / 2015)

Mother was never much of a gardener.
She worked in the yard but it was more out of necessity rather than joy.
The mindset was, if you had a yard, you needed to keep it up.
Dad cut grass, mother cut the bushes and did everything else that needed doing. . .
Going through the motions of doing, merely for the sake of necessity.

I don’t remember exactly when or how mother first came about the small tiny tea rose bush.
I don’t know why she opted to plant it by the corner of the carport.
But I do know that she was proud of the tiny rose bush.

I think she planted the bush when I was away at college.
Most likely I acknowledged the little bush, during my comings and goings,
with nothing more than a half interested glance.

Upon graduating college, I immediately moved away, with little thought of the
small bush remaining behind, perched alone by the corner of the carport.

Within two years of my independence, Mother was sadly gone.

After mother’s death, the little rose bush faded.
Dad became gravely fretful over the health of the bush,
almost frantic that the little bush not die.
Each year upon year he watched, watered, waited.

29 years have since passed.

Now with each trip back home, Dad takes me to see the bush.
No longer do I have a mere casual interest in this little plant
but rather my interest is one of keen observance,
as I have become a silent cheerleader of the now lush vibrant bush. . .

Mother would be so happy to see so many blooms. . .
Happy Mother’s Day Mom. . .

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It’s time to reclaim my friends

Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.
Rabindranath Tagore

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(long abandoned blue bird eggs / Julie Cook / 2014)

I know they were just two trees.
I know they were sick.
I know they needed to be cut . . .
. . .yet they were more than just trees.
They were homes.
They were alfresco dinning.
They were shelter.
They were shade.

Adjusting to their absence is not proving easy.
Just walking outside, immediately into the blinding sun, is a constant and very hot reminder–as are the two massive bare spots now covered in straw.

There is one glaring change, however, that is proving almost too painful to bare.
The sound.
There is no sound.
No rustling of leaves.
No rush of wind.
Yet the most startling loss of sound is from my feathered freinds.
No chirping.
No singing.
No fluttering of my birds.

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This image of St Francis is on a little card I picked up several years ago when visiting Assisi. It is one of my favorite images of Francis. There is adoration, joy, wonderment, and even serenity.
Arms outstretched, wounds of a stigmata are bourn on hands and feet. . .and the birds rejoice!

The birds rejoice.

And so, with that notion in mind. . .it was time I took matters into my own hands—It was time for me to bring back my birds!! The bevy of constant activity and action taking place on a daily basis just past my window in the two beautifully majestic oaks–both now gone, now silent, now bare.

Fast forward to this morning. . .

I pulled into the massive parking lot, practically jumping from my car, immediately grabbing a buggy (aka for non southerners, shopping cart) and making my way inside the store like a crazy woman on a mission, I then make a bee line to the source of my need.

I push the cart past the ant poison, grabbing two cans–can’t ever have enough ant poison, past the displays of fake christmas trees (helllooo we haven’t even had Halloween yet. . .I digress), past the tropical plants,ooooo pretty orchids–pay attention!! all the way to the back wall.
Looking past the rows of fertilizers, past the potions of weed be gone, past the bottles of gopher poison (do we even have gophers and why should we be killing them??)
Oh, look, sacks upon sacks of rattlesnake killer. . .interesting. . .do I need that?
FOCUS!!!

Moving methodically along the shelf, I finally stop dead in my tracks, for at last, the path of searching and seeking has finally lead to that which I have so desperately sought—-the bird feeders, the bird seeds, the bird houses, the bird suet, the mealy worms?!. . .
EXCELLENT!!

“Cut down my trees. . .huh uh”
Defiant thoughts run through my head as I gleefully pile my buggy (cart) to the brim as if in a trance.

Once back home, it’s assembly time.
I bought a telescopic “pole” thingie, of which will take the place of a tree. I know, I know, it’s a stretch yes, but I was a girl scout—one must always be prepared and must make do with what’s available!!!
Locating a sledge hammer, I proceed to pound that sucker into the ground. It will afford me to hang up 4 feeders. Woooowhooooo!
I found a cute little suet house which holds two suet packs.
I found a really interesting feeder that holds 4 pre molded pods of seed. Oh the advancements in feeding the birds!
Ooooooo!!

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Finally putting on all the finishing touches, I step back to admire my bird “retreat”

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Hummmmmm. . .
Too much?
Ok, so maybe it’s a bit over the top.
Maybe it makes me look a tad desperate. Don’t answer that.
Maybe Peaches is not exactly a welcoming mat (welcoming cat, get it. . . digressing)
Now it is time to head back inside and wait.
And woe to first raccoon, with hot little paws, attempting to undo what I spent all afternoon doing–otherwise I’ll be right back at that store taking a close second look at that gopher poison. . .just saying.

No wimps or chickens here

“I hate and fear snakes, because if you look into the eyes of any snake you will see that it knows all and more of the mystery of man’s fall, and that it feels all the contempt that the Devil felt when Adam was evicted from Eden. Besides which its bite is generally fatal, and it twists up trouser legs.”
― Rudyard Kipling

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(a garter snake / Julie Cook / 2014)

“There’s a snake lurking in the grass.”
Virgil

I am certainly no wimp nor chicken when it comes to the things one finds lurking, crawling, slithering, digging, hiding, burrowing, perching, out in the wilds of one’s yard.
However, I think I’ve previously shared with you that I do not care for spiders.
Not the large varieties nor the shiny spindly legged ones.
None of those wolf spiders, black widows, brown recluses, and certainly no tarantulas—which thankfully for me, do not live in this neck of the woods!!

Oh, and I don’t do scorpions. Despite being, what those into astrology would call, a Scorpio, I’m not a fan. They look too much like a wicked spider of sorts. And while I’m thinking about it, have you ever noticed an odd resemblance between scorpions, and say, lobsters?? I really can’t ponder over that thought very long as I love love lobster. Yet if I look at them long enough, I begin to get terribly creeped out. Oh, and what about king crabs, which I also love love, resembling gigantic spiders. . .? Really a meal breaker if you think about it too long! Nope, mustn’t ponder over such or my seafood loving days could be short lived!

Now snakes, on the other hand, don’t bother me. Granted I have a very healthy respect for snakes, I just don’t feel the need to go whack off their heads when I happen upon one, say, cruising by in my yard. It is indeed, however, the poisonous ones which give me great cause for concern—especially the rattlesnakes which do indeed call this area home, as do cottonmouths and copperheads—and I will say that the scene in Indiana Jones, when he fell into that pit full of snakes, was most disconcerting–one or two out in the yard is ok, a den of them would be a different story. . .but luckily that situation is highly unlikely here.

And yet I don’t feel the need to whack off the heads of the poisonous ones either.
I simply stay out of their way.
I try not to go looking for trouble.

So on this oh so hot and humid afternoon, as I spied the mailman out by the mailbox, I quickly bound out the door, making my way down the front steps when suddenly something stopped me dead in my tracks. What resembled about a 2 foot long cord of black and yellow rope was shooting down the walkway right in front of me.

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And just a quickly as I saw it, it vanished.
Hummmm. . .
Just as quickly, I peer over the flower pot it shot past, expecting to find perhaps a small hole in the ground.
Nothing.
I gently tilt back the cement planter only to discover the black and yellow cord now balled up with a red rapid fire tongue quickly gauging the air. Lowering the planter gently back down, I bound back inside the house in search of the camera. The camera is never in tow when needed.

Back outside I again gently lift the planter allowing myself to get a few quick shots before leaving my little visitor alone to resume making his way to wherever it was he was going when I unintentionally interrupted his journey.

Calling my husband and describing the snake, my woodsman spouse tells me it’s probably a small king or garter snake but he’ll need to look at the pictures I took. He continues to explain that a King Snake will and can kill a rattlesnake. Which I suppose earns him the name of King. On the other hand a Garter snake will eat slugs, frogs, toads, bugs, roadkill, etc. —a bit of a patrolman of the yard I suppose.

And as it would turn out, my black and yellow cord looking friend is indeed an Eastern Garter Snake.
And whereas he is certainly harmless to me and the cats, he may not be so to some of my other little critters that call my yard home. All of which may mean that I’ll need to keep an eye out for our friend Mr. Toad. . .
otherwise, watching where one steps while barefoot may be in order—don’t want to accidently step on any black and yellow slithering cords!

Unexpected visitor

Visits always give pleasure – if not the arrival, the departure
Portuguese Proverb

What a surprise we found yesterday afternoon upon our arrival home after a long day away. As we turned into the driveway from the road, we see a most unusual individual standing on the driveway… just outside of the open garage. My husband immediately stops and we just sit in the truck perched at the top of the driveway in awe.

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A young deer is standing on the driveway right by the house! It looks at us sitting in the truck at the top of the driveway but continues standing and even edging it’s way slowly closer to the garage and house. What these photos don’t show is that our fluffy orange cat Peaches is sitting on the walkway just behind the big bush on the left of the picture. The deer is standing just about 2 feet away form Peaches in a bit of a stare off.

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I think if we’d sat in the truck a while longer, the little deer would have eventually edged its way over the Peaches–perhaps nose to nose introductions. Peaches, who in turn was not budging, is a very docile cat who no doubt was equally intrigued with the visiting larger 4 legged “guest.”
“We can’t sit here all day” my husband reluctantly admits as we proceed to edge our own way down the driveway as the little deer simply turned and walked down the bank, wandering toward the back yard and “mom” as she waited by the tree.

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What a special treat…. Who knew we’d have “company” waiting on us when we arrived home. Just goes to show that none of us ever knows what necessarily awaits us upon our arrivals here, there, and yon…. with that thought in mind, on this new day to this new week, alway be ready for the unexpected–and remember the words of St Benedict from his Rule for living…..
“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,
for He is going to say,
“I came as a guest, and you received Me” (Matt. 25:35).
And to all let due honor be shown….”