LOVE IN A BASKET OF ZUCCHINI

It is February 1st. and I am looking at online catalogues. No not Spiegel’s or Fredrick’s of Hollywood, online seed catalogues. Burpee’s, Gurney’s and Park’s seed catalogues are the main ones but there are others. I remember my grandmother poring over her print and paper versions this time of year…along with the almanac…got to get those planting dates right. Like fishing by the moon and wind direction, she planted by the dates in the almanac and the moon. I’m not that scientific…is it scientific to plant by the almanac? Except for the cold resistant plants, I just plant after the last frost date for our area which is April 15. Well, I might fudge just a bit. I can’t wait to eat my first tomato sandwich and that translates to I can’t wait to get my first tomato plant or six into the ground knowing I might have to protect them during an early spring cold snap.

I flipped through the pages of my electronic catalogues comparing prices and I admit it’s not as much fun as flipping through real pages but everything I plant was there. As I compared prices one of the many voices in my head asked “Do you really believe you raise more produce than you could buy for the cost of seeds, fertilizer and other chemicals?” I answered, “I don’t know, maybe.” Another pointed out, “Don’t you remember the sweat running off your nose while you were picking bean beetles off your green beans and butter peas? You can buy beans you know.” “Yes, I remember but I don’t want to buy them.” To myself, with my real voice, I added, “And those f#$%ing squash bugs.”

What my voices are forgetting is the love that goes into it. Except for the zucchinis. I maybe the only person in the world who can’t figure out zucchini squash. People around me grow one hill of zucchini and have enough for the season and feed half of the population of China with leftovers. I’ve tried it all…well except chemicals like Sevin Dust…well maybe a little. I try to be “organic” and use “organic” chemicals and some of the chemicals work, but not on zucchini. One year it was squash vine borers, I fixed that with my wife’s old panty hose. “Now Linda Gail why would I know what happened to your pantyhose?” Maybe they weren’t so old. Another year its blossom end rot, or squash beetles or the plant itself just wilts away. I’ve asked everyone about squash bugs. Their answer is, “I don’t have squash bugs.” I know you don’t, their all on my zucchinis. I put good organic fertilizer in the hill, added some calcium or Epsom salts or both, never watering in the evening and then wait for the squash bugs to attack and start hand picking them off…after my soap spray fails to stop them. Well back to love.

My garden is bigger than I need because I like to give love in the form of fresh veggies. I also like the look on people’s faces when I present them with “care packages.” My wife, neighbors, my mother in law and her family, my daughter and her family and anyone else who happens by. I like to give away the love. I don’t give love to my brother because he raises his own and because…well he’s my brother. Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, peppers…that reminds me. Charlie likes hot peppers. I’m going to show him some love and order Scotch Bonnets. I just don’t give away much zucchini because I never have much. Just some for my mother in law who returns the love in the form of zucchini bread. Whatever love I have left I can or freeze.

My grandmother did the same thing. Grew it, canned it and gave it away…except for zucchini. I don’t remember her growing much zucchini. Maybe I have the “I can’t grow zucchini” gene. Well, just remember, if you get a basket of zucchini from me, I must love you a lot.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

RETURN OF THE RED TAILS

I heard a shrill whistle from above and looked up into a late January sky. It was a beautiful January day, warmer than normal although the day felt cooler with a gusty breeze blowing from the northwest. The sky was cloudless and of a deep blue color poems are written about. Circling in the middle of the blue expanse was my red-tailed hawk.

I know she’s not mine any more that I’m hers but it’s the way I think of her…if she is a “her.” I believe she is a her because of her size. She and I met several years ago when I got too near her nest and was dive bombed by either “herself”or her mate. A bright reddish-brown flash had me ducking low to the ground while uttering several expletives as I scurried to safety. For several days, I searched with binoculars until I found her nest high in an oak tree on the high hill behind my house and made a note to stay clear until her clutch had flown.

For the past several January winters, the red tails have returned to make repairs to their nest before beginning their courting flights as the days lengthen in the early spring. Soaring high into the blue sky while twisting and turning, the male makes steep dives around his mate before soaring back into the “romantic” blue sky. Soon they will retreat to their evergreen boudoir in an ancient hemlock tree and their “acte d’amour” will begin for another season as the “circle of life” continues with an egg or three.

I once wasted several cool, early summer mornings watching the red tail teaching her one offspring how to hunt field mice. Standing at the kitchen sink, a wide picture window affords me a view of a small open area between my backyard and one of the streams cutting my property. Sitting on a dead “stick up”, the red tail and her charge would wait patiently for movement, then, after erupting into a violent dive, return to their perch with the bounty of their exertions and share…until that faithful day when they returned and momma hawk brushed the little one aside as if to say “This is mine, it’s time for you to go get your own.” There comes a time when we all must spread our wings and go off to do our own hunting.

My red tails are one of the harbingers of spring I check off as I await my “most wonderful time” of the year. Soon everything will be green and colorful with rebirth. Despite my allergies, mosquitos and the emergence of yellow jackets, it is the “most wonderful time” of the year.

As I knelt in my backyard, digging at some dormant plant needing to be moved, I paused to watch her catching thermals, soaring higher and higher. I realized we had survived one more season. It is a season of rebirth for us all. My grandmother lived for spring. In her nineties, I expected every winter to be her last but every spring she would rally, be re-born like the jonquils, to enjoy her “most wonderful time” of the year. In the February of her ninety-eighth year, winter won out as it will for us all. Until then I will await the return of my red tails, her memory, and my own rally and rebirth. My “most wonderful time.”

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time go to his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf. While there you might like to hit like.

A SPRING DAY IN JANUARY

Glorious is the only way to describe it. Days ago, I was wishing, nay, pleading for just a bit of sun to burn away the depression I experience in the winter. My Lord granted my wish. Two beautiful days with bright sunshine and temperatures in the high sixties or low seventies. Great days for yardwork, digging in the ground and playing in the garden while basking my body in the sun, an extra walk in the afternoon as the shadows begin to lengthen. Sitting in my backyard Adirondack, I am happy I have accomplished something outside. With my brown liquor and cigar in hand, I watch the sun disappear behind the mountains to my west. Glorious it is…was. Sunlight in the backyard and no mosquitos.

The coming days won’t be as warm but at least the sun will be shining, a true blessing…the sun. Later I’ll worry about whether the temperature has gotten cold enough to kill any of the mosquitos or whether we are getting enough rainfall to refill the local lakes and our water table. Honestly…it never gets cold enough to kill the mosquitos here in the foothills of the South Carolina Blue Ridge. For the next few days it’s all about soaking up enough sunlight to get me through the rest of our winter with my sanity intact.

I don’t know what people do in northern climes where it is “for real” cold and the sun is even lower in the sky…at least I don’t know how people with clinical depression survive, even if it seems to be in remission. Should I say, if they can see the sun for the copious amounts of snow fall? I religiously watched the television series “Northern Exposure” in the early or mid-Nineties. The series took place in the mythical city of Cicely, Alaska, a village I would love to live in or near if it was below the Mason-Dixon line. Do they have moose below the Mason-Dixon line? I vividly remember an episode titled “Spring Break.” The inhabitants of Cicely go through temporary and humorous madness as they await spring and the river ice to break. When the sun rose high enough in the sky…does it EVER rise high enough in Alaska? When the sun and the temperature rose high enough to cause the ice to break and flow in the river, the male inhabitants participated in what was called “the running of the bulls,” a run, sans clothing, past a gantlet of applauding women lining the Cicely equivalent of main street. If it will get spring here any sooner, I’ll run naked down Highway 11 and give you time to draw a crowd.

Fortunately for the residents of Tigerville, SC, I know spring won’t be here for another six weeks or so…regardless of what a ground hog located in Pennsylvania and my premature blooming Scot’s Broom say. Running naked won’t get it here any sooner. Until spring hits for real and the sun causes the ice to break, I will be satisfied with a day of spring here and there. I give thanks for these past two spring days…especially as I watch the weather news and its forecast of an impending cold snap. “Breaking ice” can’t get here soon enough. I wonder if my wife will applaud if I run naked around my back yard?

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time go to his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf. While there you might like to hit like.