Time Away from Blogging

Carol A. Hand

You have all probably noticed my frequent absences recently. Autumn is always a busy time for me. This year is no exception – except it already feels busier.

The rotting board on my deck has been repaired and the deck floor has a new coat of paint. I think I’ve washed off most of the paint from my hands and arms, and under my nails.

Weeds and branches are secured in large paper bags, waiting to be transported to the local collection site. I still have many more branches to bag, though. Hopefully the bags will fit in my little car (White Pony).

Despite the heat and drought, life has been kind.

Smoky Sunset – August 2018

There are bountiful gardens to tend and harvest.

Gardens – August 2018

Another round of editing has begun for the book manuscript I’ve been working on for years. This time, I have a plan.

Soon I will have a digital copy of an original painting for the cover thanks to a dear friend, Carl Gawboy, an Ojibwe artist, scholar, and storyteller. Here’s the old photo that has now become part of my chapter one rewrite. It illustrates shifting times. Children who were once surrounded by nature and family live on reservations where the original forests were clear cut. The first generation didn’t realize the magnitude of the environmental and social changes that would follow when most of the trees were gone. But the next generation lived with the consequences of yet more losses.

A quick visit today to the on-line site for the class I will be teaching beginning on September 8 was a rather alarming reminder about the amount of work I have yet to do on my syllabus and assignments. Luckily, the new edition of the course text arrived yesterday. Of course, I will be trying something new, again. We’ll be looking at the link between access to clean water and community health. That means some research, thinking, and writing. Any suggestions you have about relevant research articles, online resources, or innovative initiatives would be greatly appreciated.

I hope you all know how much I value your presence in my life. For now, though, I will need to carve out more time to deal with these pressing responsibilities. I can’t predict how long I’ll be gone. I have an unpredictable muse who surprises me now and then with something urgent I need to write and share. Of course, I can’t post something without reciprocating visits and responding to comments (often belatedly). As you all know, that takes a lot of time. Frequently I resist posting until my muse makes my life unbearable.

With My Daughter and Grandson – August 2018
With My Granddaughter and Grandson – August 2018


À bientôt (see you later) and best wishes to all.


Reflections Inspired by Kale and Water

Carol A. Hand

Kneeling on my lawn looking at the five huge kale plants I’d just harvested,
a task postponed now necessary given the predicted night’s hard freeze
A city water department employee appeared at the gate
my expression told him clearly I wasn’t pleased
with the message he delivered – “your water will be off tomorrow,” he said
This meant I needed to stay up until the wee hours to process all I could
Less than half of the kale frozen, unsteady on my feet before I headed off to bed
hoping the remaining lovely nourishing leaves would still be crisp and good



Kale and Green Beans – August 11, 2016


I awoke late and took time to ponder before I arose
What is peace? An image from childhood appeared
Sitting on the earth in a wood beside a little singing brook
Sunlight filtered through leaves whispering in the gentle breeze
creating shifting patterns of light and shadow
I was at peace listening to the leaves, brook, and birds
I sang with them, feeling safe and connected to all in my wooded solitary sanctuary
In time, I would stand knowing I needed to return
to a world that was often chaotic, noisy, and unkind
I would feel lost again, but the memory of my sanctuary would help me survive

But is love the same as peace? If not, what is love?
Those questions were more difficult to answer
Love isn’t the yin of peace for me, the receptive deep listening
I think of love as forceful, fiery energy and see myself standing
Alone in a powerful storm, face lifted to the sky, hands outstretched
I feel the power of the earth, positively charged, move through my feet to my heart
igniting a glow that travels to my thoughts and hands
I feel the power of healing move through my heart, mind and outstretched hands
a wordless loving prayer for the earth and all of her inhabitants
Love demands only that I serve as a conduit for a healing life force and ask nothing in return
The moment passes, the power dissipates, and ordinary life goes on



Stormy Skies – October 10, 2016


Both the water of peace and fire of love are easier to experience and observe when I am alone
But how do these forces affect my interactions with people, I wonder?
That’s a question to consider another day.




It’s a Matter of Balance

Carol A. Hand

Be moderate in all things:
Watch, listen, and consider:
Your deeds will be prudent.
(Midewiwin Code)(Source: Johnston, 1976, p. 93)

When it comes to gardening, I do read and listen to what the experts have to say. And then I study my environment. I watch how the light changes during the day, notice the various types of soil and plants that grow in different spaces, and observe how the land changes with the seasons. And then I contrast what I observe with “expert wisdom” – the newest fads and what the experts say is really true now.

Other experts got it wrong in the past. But now we know the truth. Don’t dig in the soil. Weeds are beneficial.”

All of them? Even if they’re deliberately-planted species from other parts of the world that have no natural controls in this environment and quickly smother indigenous life? From my perspective, that sounds too much like the colonial and capitalistic hegemony imposed on Ojibwe people for centuries. “Don’t think for yourself. We know best!” It’s taught me to question those who believe their way is the only right way – those who are too certain of their infallibility.

crabapple tree 2015

Photo: Crabapple Blossoms – June 2015

What happened to the spirit of inquisitive inquiry? Will I really harm the earth if I remove the nails, metal fragments, glass, plastic, concrete slabs and building debris that has been scattered for an untold number of years throughout my yard? Should I simply leave the land banked and contoured so all of the run off from the rain flows into my basement, or into my front yard from the neighbors’ artificially raised yards on two sides? I do know that I have no way of knowing what’s in the new dirt I’ve trucked in to address these issues, fill the newly-built raised beds, and improve the hard-packed nutrient-deficient soil.

I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to undertake labor-intensive experiments. Of all the various home remedies I’ve used to deal with deer, only a high fence worked. Using the sod I dug up when I created gardens to contour the slope of the land away from the house worked, even in the flood of 2012. Removing concrete slabs and gently contouring the land on both sides of the front yard seems to be working as well – not just in terms of preventing the formation of mini-ponds after heavy rains, but also with improving neighbor-relations.


Photo: Gardens – June 2015

Some things don’t work as well. Straw mulch does control weed growth and minimize the need to water during long dry spells, but there’s a downside. It provides slugs with an ideal breeding ground in a long, cool rainy spring. Once firmly entrenched, they’re truly destructive. And while high fences keep deer out, they don’t deter hungry squirrels who have discovered their appetite for small green tomatoes and baby squash.

I have also learned that maintenance is crucial, but there are always competing priorities in a fixer-upper yard and house. Still, it’s a great learning lab for creative problem-solving. Many innovations come from economic necessity and repurposing resources, like the sod I dig up or the boards I salvaged from the old fence. They’ve become part of the system to address higher land on either side or my yard.

ava's garden june 2015

Photo: My Granddaughter by Her Garden – July 2015

The other lesson I keep learning? It’s the process that matters. I can’t help trying to breathe health and beauty into the places I live and work, even though I know nothing is permanent. Everything could change tomorrow. What isn’t as likely to disappear are the memories my granddaughter has of watching the seeds she planted grow into flowers. Or the memories of my grandson who learned that it’s wisest to approach challenging jobs by selecting the least destructive alternatives even if you’re strong. In the long run, it often takes less time. Or the memories of my neighbors who say their lives are enriched and inspired by the gardens and flowers they can see from their windows or as they walk by.


Photo: My Grandson Holding His Team’s Rugby Trophy – 2015

Deciding whether to dig and weed is really a multidimensional conundrum nested within a specific geographic and human context. I don’t know what long range outcomes will follow from the decisions I make today even though I do my best to watch, listen and consider. I’ll be long gone, and perhaps my house and yard will be gone as well. It could be part of an extended parking lot for the church and apartment building across the street. It could disappear in a storm like the one that broke a huge branch from my beloved willow tree this year. Regardless, I do believe that the love we put into the things we do and the places we live survives as an essence in the places and people we touch long after we pass on.

Work Cited:

Basil Johnston (1976). Ojibway heritage. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Music of Flowers

Carol A. Hand

When I first moved here almost four years ago, it was October. The leaves had fallen, old branches were piled to the top of the four-foot fences, and the yard was filled with an odd assortment of metal poles and lawn ornaments. Of course, they were all set in concrete and it was difficult to tell if there were any plants other than raspberry bushes and unhealthy baby trees all along the fence line.


Photo: Front Yard – Real Estate Photo – 2011 (the windmill and metal tree are gone now)

In the spring, there were a few surprises – an assortment of the most invasive ground covers one can encounter – lilies of the valley, snow on the mountain, yellow woods violets, creeping bellflowers, and or course the ubiquitous creeping charlie. There are a number of other plants with similar characteristics that I have yet to identify. They all have dense, deep root structures that form an impermeable cover over the clay soil that lets little water through. The removal process means jumping up and down on a steel-bladed shovel to clear at least the first foot of soil. Of course, every seed that has been waiting to germinate now competes to totally fill any open space. Viola tri-color flowers and forget-me-nots are lovely. I suspect that they were favorites of the previous owner who planted them anew each year because of all of the plastic plant tabs I find in the soil (along with nails, glass, shingle shreds, and other sundry garbage). The little seeds have been patiently biding their chance to grow – and grow they have – choking whatever else I try to plant.

There have been other discoveries as well – cow parsnips and buckthorn trees. Both are beautiful, but the sap of cow parsnips can cause serious blisters on skin when exposed to sunlight, and buckthorn tress spread rapidly and are threatening the health of Minnesota forests.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the challenge of trying to breathe new life into earth that has been neglected for so long. It’s a matter of having patience to try to reestablish some kind of balance. I’m inspired by the miracle of witnessing the astounding variety of life that emerges from tiny seeds. Who could guess?


Photo: Gardens have replaced the windmill and metal tree – August 30, 2015

As I contemplated the plants that need to be harvested next – carrots and beets – I heard a song on the classical radio station that my parakeets listen to during the day. I discovered that flowers have inspired some of the most beautiful compositions. Today, I decided to share two of them: The Flower Duet  (from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes) and Waltz of the Flowers (from the Nutcracker ballet by Piotr Ilich Tchaikivsky). I know I do have a somewhat unpredictable eccentric taste in music – but can’t you hear the flowers sing and see them dance when no one is looking?


Photo: Zinnia from my Granddaughter’s Garden – August 30, 2015

The Flower Duet – Sung by Anna Netrebko & Elina Garanca  (Lyrics with English translation here)

Waltz of the Flowers (from the Nutcracker ballet by Piotr Ilich Tchaikivsky)


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