Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Why Intentional Parenting Is So Much Harder

What happens when you don’t let the kids have screen time:
There Is A Couch Underneath All This

When the Turkey Vultures Fly South For Winter

I didn’t see them leave.

They don’t say good-bye.
One day I see
a roadkilled hawk
alone in death
and notice their absence.

Haiku For a Strange Night

It’s very dark, the
sky tonight, except for the
artificial light.


Do you hear that hum?
From deep in the earth, rumbling
low and loud. Do you?


She should sleep, but it’s
too dark. Headlights cut the night.
She smiles. “Nice and bright.”

The Bees Know

I know I’ve said it before, but white heath is my favorite late-season native wildflower. When all the other flowers have spent themselves, white heath is just getting started. White heath keeps going till the last minute, when the themometer hits 32 on some early morning in October. White heath is always the last flower to leave the party of the tallgrass prairie summer.

Everybody hates white heath, except me. I have finally convinced the people who wield the weed whackers around here not to whack it, but I keep a few in out-of-the-way places, just in case. There’s a big patch this year by the compost, and it turns out I’m not the only one who loves it, after all. The honey bees appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of flowers left, and most of the others peaked a week ago, or more. It’s a glorious, sunny, warm day today, but there won’t be many more of these, and the bees know to make the most of every bit of pollen they can gather before the cold sets in.

I am not so industrious. I struggle to match my energy to the time available. I have gotten some good work done on my studio renovation this week, but it’s far from ready, and I didn’t really get anything done today.

Tomorrow I’ll take a lesson from the bees, I promise. The bees know.

All True.

It was a wonky day, the kind when I do all kinds of stupid and most of it pointless. Like, going to the bank without one of the checks. (Did I mention the bank is fifteen miles away?) Like, going to the Girl Scout council to buy materials for the meeting tonight, and finding out the council shop was closed. (Also fifteen miles away. More, really, because it’s on the far side of town.) Like, fretting about getting dinner started before the meeting with one kid while the other goes to a soccer game and Dad works late; putting on some soup and immediately remembering that said Dad planned to bring home Chinese food.

One of the Girl Scout moms called to ask if we had a meeting tonight. I said, yes, I’d already texted her, but maybe I sent it to the wrong number?

She said, “I’ll get organized one of these days, I really will.”

I said, “I know you will. I will too.”

What I didn’t say: “Because I have complete faith that everything is going right for us, and we cannot fail. It’s all coming together for us, both of us, we’ll be so organized, people will be scared of us. They’ll say, that Paula and Rachel, watch out for them! They really get things done!”

It’s all true, every word.

We'll be like a roaring prairie fire, clearing out the dead stuff to make way for spring!

We’ll be like a roaring prairie fire, clearing out the dead stuff to make way for spring!

Monarchs On the Move

Driving on KS highway 177 this afternoon, I saw twenty-two monarch butterflies heading south, as well as half a dozen or more little flyers that passed too fast for me to be sure they were monarchs. There’s only one time I see that many flying south: fall migration.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen more monarchs this year than last. While their numbers are plummeting throughout North America, here in Chase County, native milkweeds are still abundant, so we know monarchs who hatch and live here can find plenty of their host flower.

I’ve never gotten a good shot of a monarch, so here’s a cat picture.

Kevin and Wildfire

When the Turkey Vultures Come In to Roost

It would seem that I’m not to be trusted to pump my own gas, and nobody can remember the last time I showed up anywhere on time. My house is a shambles, an insult to civilized humanity. In 47 years, I’ve yet to get through a single year without financial assistance from one or another relative. I’m pretty useless.

But I’m also a person you could call on if you wanted to know where and when to go to see dozens of turkey vultures circling down to roost for the night, or where you might have a chance of spotting an indigo bunting or a blue heron. I could tell you just when to step outside in the rain because there might be a rainbow, when the white heath blooms (some just started today in my back yard, as a matter of fact), and when a flock of migrating Franklin’s gulls are passing right over your head.

None of this information is of any particular use to anyone, and not really interesting to anyone other than myself, or occasionally one of my daughters.

So you see, there are trade-offs -pretty substantial ones -to being me, or being around me. Some days I don’t think it’s a good trade. I’d give anything to be someone else, someone capable and effective. Someone who gets things done, who carries her own weight. I wish desperately that I could be someone who doesn’t have to spend half her life apologizing for her failures and the other half scrambling to catch up to the starting line, someone who gets to the end of a day and doesn’t wonder what she did with it.

But when you see the turkey vultures in the slanting light, circling low over the trees, it’s really something. One of these days they’ll rise up in the mid-morning sun, head out over the hills, and keep going, until they reach some distant southerly perch. But for tonight they’re coming back to that stand of trees in Strong City, near the Cottonwood River, and it feels like a privilege to witness them. It feels like being in on a secret, but a secret that’s right out in the open where anyone can see.

I point them out to whoever is around. Sometimes they look at me blankly, as one would a child who isn’t yet able to speak intelligibly. More often, they don’t notice I’m talking at all.

Ego and Ego’s Job

Excuse me in advance for mangling Freud, but let’s talk about ego today. Ego gets a bad rap. We can all probably appreciate an occasional id moment, when we just want what we want, for no good reason; and we think we should put the superego in charge most of the time, but ego? Who needs it?

I think it was Stephanie Thomas (back when she was a yoga teacher) who first introduced me to the idea that the ego isn’t bad. She gave me a couple pages from a book, which I still have somewhere around here, and when I find it I’ll come back and tell you the name of it and who wrote it. For now I’ll just say it really struck me by saying that we don’t need to destroy or starve the ego, but purify it. There was a list of ways to purify the ego, but, more to the point, the reason for doing so is that the ego has a purpose and we need it.

At the same time, I was reading A Course In Miracles, which is not so kind to ego. But I did learn to recognize when ego is in action, which is, surprisingly, most of the times I’m unhappy, especially when I’m unhappy with another person. Somebody getting away with something unfairly? It’s ego that cares. Somebody slights me? Ego. I’m not living up to a vague expectation that somebody laid on me so long ago I don’t remember who did it or when? Ego is the part of me that tortures me mercilessly for my failures. In ACIM, ego is an illusion that will disappear when we recognize the truth, which is that we are one with the Divine, which is defined as Love, and that any belief in the possibility of separation or harm of any kind is an error.

Later, Caryn Robson gave me Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, and Tolle echoes ACIM on ego. He teaches that all we have to do is notice, with full attention, and those egoic thoughts dissipate.

But that idea of ego as neutral, even useful at times, stuck with me over the years, and I’ve come to see ego as essential, when it is working toward its purpose. When deprived of the opportunity to do its job, ego goes looking for something else to do, and that is when problems pop up.

What is Ego’s job? Well, I do believe that we are essentially one. But we are present in three-dimensional space, living within limitation and linear time. We have reason to believe this is an illusion, but it’s pervasive and seems to be built into the structure of this particular neighborhood of the universe. Why would we choose to come here? (Did I forget to mention that we choose to come here? I’ll have to explain that another time, I have a massage this afternoon and I need to get some housework done before I go, so I don’t have a lot of time to write right now.)

Suppose we come to this quirky neighborhood, dressed up in a funny costume in which we look like a thrown-together-at-the-last-minute imitation of a stereotype older than history. I’ve got a part to play in this charade, and the Director suddenly jumps up with a megaphone and says, “Hey you! Get up on the stage! This show is depending on YOU!”

What? I don’t even know my lines! Then I remember, the script is written in my heart. My body knows the blocking if I don’t think about it too much. It’s all here, in me. It’s in you, too, in all of us, but we’re all in different costumes, with different parts to play, and nobody but me is right here, ready to make an entrance onto this very stage at the perfect moment, which is now.

And the one who knew all that, who never forgot, who used every trick -berating, cajoling, lying, kicking me in the ass, whatever it takes- to get me up on that stage, no matter how anxious I am, how determined to know every line, entrance, and exit of every character by memory before I even peek out from behind the curtain, how certain I am that the understudy could do a far better job: the Director is the Ego.

What if I don’t do it? What if I’m too busy? This costume is poking me and I can’t hear the cardio-teleprompter when I’m this uncomfortable. And there’s so much backstage work to be done, I’ll get up on the stage tomorrow, or next month, or next year. After a while, Ego gets tired of waiting, and goes looking for something else to do. Ego’s gift is this: Ego knows that I am important, that I have a unique contribution to make to the world. Ego insists that I share my talents. If I won’t be in the show, I can instead correct everybody’s grammar. I can satisfy myself by going over other peoples’ mistakes in my mind, and how I would do things differently if I were in their place. If I won’t acknowledge my importance as in individual, Ego will show me all the ways that I have failed others, hurt them, disappointed them, and therefore deserve all my lack of success.

Oh dear Ego, tireless friend, I’ve been hearing your message. We don’t have to say whose habitual mispronunciations have been grating on my nerves, or which crotchety old biddy’s lectures have been testing my patience. These people, whom I love, are not the problem, and there is one solution: I have to get up on the stage.

Time to start writing again.

Here's my writing studio. There's a bit of work to be done.

Here’s my writing studio. There’s a bit of work to be done.

Beautiful Morning

Maybe it was because the heat had lifted, making way for a cool front and just enough water coming down to call it rain.

Maybe it was the quality of the light filtering through the clouds, so the hot colors settled down for a nap, while the cool greens and grays woke up vividly.

It was a kind of day when you step outside and say, “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” before you realize you’re living a show tune.

The girls have been biking to school this year, but I drove them today due to the rain. The doves in the street were so at peace, it was hard to rouse them out of the path of the car. “Car, doves!” I told them, and the girls behind me joined in, “Car! Car!” Then, “Caw, caw!” which would possibly alarm doves more effectively.

Humming a pretty tune, I waved at other parents coming back from the school in their vehicles. A white-haired man sat on his stoop watching the traffic. It was an ordinary moment, perfect and beautiful.

It occurred to me that maybe for old people, watching kids go to school in the morning isn’t just something they do when they don’t have anything else to do. Maybe it’s meaningful in itself to watch these rituals of coming together and parting, the hurrying and dawdling, the putting on and removing of outerwear as the seasons revolve, children growing day by day and year by year.

It used to be that when I came upon these moments of heightened awareness, I’d wish desperately and wistfully that they could last forever. Now I know that the secret is to be that present in every moment, to be in perfection and beauty, even through everything changing.

How do we get there? I suppose they say meditation and mindfulness practices can help, though it seems to me largely a function of grace, which is to say, the Divine bleeding through our consciousness, unasked, undeserved, unwarranted.

Or maybe it was simply that the heat had lifted.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant's eye.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant’s eye.

What Lives In Your Neighborhood?

It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time to notice nature. Admittedly, sometimes it involves sitting for a while, seemingly doing nothing. Type A people can’t do it. But other times, you see things just because you’re willing to.

I spent about an hour today clearing some weeds, cutting tree shoots, watering the few cultivars I have this year. The weeds have become so overgrown that I’ve learned new things about them. One vine I’d always thought was some kind of bindweed turned out to have a flower completely different from the morning-glory trumpet shape of Convulvulus arvensis. It really doesn’t look that much like bindweed, so I’m not sure why I thought it was related, now that I think of it. Today I discovered it is honeyvine milkweed, Cynanchum laeve. This one is truly a vining milkweed, and, as such, it is a food for monarch butterflies. So it turns out I do have at least one monarch food on the property.

Watering Rowan’s pot of zinnias, I saw a little moth I didn’t know, and it was kind enough to let me get a good shot. Then, while ripping up some weeds to expose a beleaguered rose, I inadvertently destroyed the web of a striking black and yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia. Sorry, ma’am.

By that time, it was too hot to work outside, and I was hungry, so Wildfire the kitten and I came back in for lunch.

When you go outside, even if it’s just from your door to the car, look to see what’s out there. What lives in your neighborhood?


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