Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Spring rain

As I near blog entry #150 here at The Back Porch, I am aware that some of the topics I elect to tackle have close connections with other entries written at earlier times.  My intent is not to repeat the same message, but just the same, re-treating an idea that has stuck with me must say something about what I hold valuable.  
Such surely is the case with spring.  
I mean, how can a writer from the Midwest not be impacted by the amazing greens produced this time of year in our ‘blessed to be rainy’ climate?  I have a couple of sibs who travel South every fall to enjoy winter activities in Florida.  Cindy Lou and I have been down to see their lovely winter places, and we both admit, shirtsleeves in January is a fine situation to deal with.  
Still, hanging out up here -- up North -- for winter allows the change of seasons to really get inside a person’s head.  I truly love fall and winter.  Hands down, both are favorite seasons for me.  But by the time leaves fall and autumnal color turns to crunchy brown, we who stay are in for many indoor winter hours that have a tendency to get inside our bones.  No back porch sitting or garden tending. Birds are still pretty good, though. 
It’s always exciting, for me, to see the first flowers of the season blooming.  Crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, spring beauties, dutchman’s breetches -- all first of season blossoms -- are colorful indicators that we’ve made it, that winter has passed. 
But that’s just March and April.  By the time May comes around, hold on to your seats.  I’m talking green coming out of the natural woodwork.  Ferns pop up and unfurl; day lilies erupt into full size, waiting to extend flowers later;  dogwood and forsythia pass blooming and get on with the task of new hard growth; hostas come back from their winter retreat and tower over the leaves left on the beds as water-retaining mulch.  
Such continues to amaze every year. 
The pictures accompanying this image were taken just this morning at our place, which some loyal readers know we like to call Wild Grace, following an entire night of light rain.  And, of course, we slept with the windows open so we could hear the continuing patter of raindrops on the trees just outside our bedroom window.  
Wild grace, indeed.  Wild spring!

Today’s Elder Idea:  Spring also means tending and renewing house plants.  Here’s a poem by Lynne Sharon Schwartz from a recent Writer’s Almanac.   
The healthy plant outgrows its pot
the way a healthy child outgrows its clothes. 
Don’t let it suffer constriction.  Spread the Sports 
or Business section of the New York Times 
on the dining room table.  Find a clay pot 
big enough for fresh growth.  In the bottom 
place pebbles and shards from a broken pot for drainage. 
Add handfuls of moist black potting soil, 
digging your hands deep in the bag, rooting 
so the soil gets under your fingernails. 
Using a small spade or butter knife, 
ease the plant out of its old pot with extreme 
care so as not to disturb its wiry roots. 
The plant is naked, suspended from your hand 
like a newborn, roots and clinging soil
exposed.  Treat it gently.  Settle it 
into the center of the new pot, adding soil 
on the sides for support -- who isn’t shaky, 
moving into a new home? 
Pack more soil around the plant, 
tapping it down till you almost reach the rim. 
Flounce the leaves as you would a skirt.  Then water. 
Place the pot back on the shelf in the sunlight. 
Gather the Sports section around the spilled soil
and discard.  Watch your plant flourish. 
You have done a good and necessary deed. 
‘Repotting’ by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
from See You in the Dark.  Curbstone Books, 2012. 
Used here without Ms. Schwartz’s permission.  I hope she doesn’t mind.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


When I was a kid growing up in Dayton’s Belmont neighborhood, I didn’t know what a vacant house was, let along a foreclosure.  
To be sure, not all neighborhood abodes looked all that good.  Some most certainly could have used a paint job and more yard work, but all the houses I delivered rubber-banded Shopping News papers to every Wednesday had somebody living in them, at least as far as I can remember.  
These days, though, quite a few neighborhood houses I drive by have really tall grass this early May, and upon a closer look, windows without drapes and driveways without cars.  It is obvious that whoever called that place home no longer does.  It doesn’t take long to make an ‘eyesore’ out of such places, either. 
Last Saturday for the Rebuilding Together Dayton annual event, my team worked on a house down the hill from the Veterans Administration compound and tucked back into a rather well-tended neighborhood.  Upon first look, the house appeared pretty tough because most of the exterior paint was removed to expose lots of board feet of bare wood.  Such was the case, though, only because the homeowner had done extensive sanding in anticipation of the paint job.  Be the time we finished on Saturday, even despite a mid-day thunderstorm, much of the exterior had a coat of paint and a whole slough of interior projects completed, including installation of a brand new shower in the bathtub.  
I must admit, the neighborhood where we worked last weekend isn’t one I frequent very often, so as I drove through it while on runs to Lowe’s for something else someone on our team needed to complete a task, I tried to pay attention to what I was seeing.  
So many houses on blocks around the house where we worked looked really good:  grass well tended, nice front porch set-ups, good-looking paint jobs and roofs.  
Still, too often I saw completely derelict buildings with windows not just broken, but complete removed.  Grass, as you might imagine, was three cuts past acceptable already this early in the season.  I can only imagine how discouraged a neighborhood homeowner would feel about having a piece-of-crap house like that just down the street from the property they are trying to keep looking good.  
But I suppose that’s the world we live in now.  A new book by economist Paul Krugman makes it clear that the economy in our world isn’t just in a recession, but a depression.  I don’t know what data he used for that conclusion, but seeing empty, beat-up houses on the same block as well-cared for properties tends to have me believe such an assessment. 
Let me just say that I wish that all who need one had a job that paid enough to keep their neighborhoods looking good.  The stark truth is that that part of Dayton has a closed-down mega-printing operation and more than one shut-down and abandoned General Motors plant.  Jobs those neighbors used to enjoy have since moved on to places like Mexico and China -- away from where personal and family incomes make a local difference. 
All of this pretty much bums me out.  True, there are still good local jobs in Dayton, but not like the ones we used to have.  Now, it seems, all of the good ones require a college education.  The days of graduating from high school -- or dropping out -- and being hired on for a good assembly line job that paid enough to raise a family while leaving enough money for vacations and entertainment, are harder and harder to find.  
I was blessed to be able to afford attending Wright State for enough years to not only graduate with a teaching degree, but to finish with a masters.  Such a difference this has made in my life.  I doubt that many kids from lots of local neighborhoods have the resources to work through post-high school education to achieve the skills necessary to have a successful career these days.  
Seems to me as I drive down streets and witness so many untended yards and vacant houses, it is obvious that way too many families are struggling to make a go of it in this tough and demanding world.  
My heart goes out to so many who have so little and to those who try to do the best they can, despite the limitations brought on by change. 
Today’s Elder Idea:  In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of.  In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.