Veronica's Garden

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

Snow In May

Dear friends, it is I, Veronica Speedwell. Perhaps you thought you’d heard the last from me; But no. Spring positively requires poetry about flowers, and that is a job for me, whether Rachel likes it or not.

Snows of the Prairie

White fluff falls from the sky
of a glorious early spring day.
Cottonwood seeds catch the breeze:
Snow in May

The sunflowers peak and die back—
summer’s last ember.
White heath breaks into bloom!
Snow in September.

white heath by fence

Professor Lucretia Blackwing

The kids wanted me to play outside with them. Be a Hogwarts professor, they said. I had a million things to do, but it was a fine day and it seemed reasonable to take an excuse to do the outside stuff instead of the inside stuff, so I said I would, because: about a month ago, I got spring fever and bought some tomato seeds and planted way more than I have space to grow, and I’ve never had much success with tomatoes from seed, until this time. So I needed to prep a bed for them. I told the kids I’d be Herbology professor and we’d study nightshades.

So I started digging and first thing, Kiran (Hogwarts name Lila Blackwing, because she is my daughter in Hogwarts world, and I am Lucretia Blackwing) asked me what I wanted to teach about nightshade. She said it made her think of “deadly nightshade,” and I concurred that some nightshades are deadly, but there was one in particular that we commonly eat. She was not able to guess it, even when I told her that what I was doing at that moment was a hint. Finally I told her tomatoes.

Rowan (Hogwarts name Stella Galaxy) was in a more academic mood (I always think she should be a Ravenclaw, but she was a Slytherin today), so I told her to go inside and get my Jeanne Rose Herbal and look up nightshade and write me a report on it. She couldn’t find the book so she started searching the internet. Conveniently, her computer is next to a window that overlooks the tomato bed-to-be, so I told her to search “Solanum,” and she found an enormous amount of information. I’d forgotten, myself, that potatoes are nightshades, too. She took lots of notes, but I haven’t seen the report yet.

I dug until I hit some concrete, and couldn’t plant a tomato there. Kevin came home from church and we got ready to go the the in-laws’ for Sunday dinner. So it was a fruitful morning. I did a small amount of gardening, got some sun and fresh air, and progressed in my ongoing lesson that magic is absolutely real, and everything is magical, if you’re willing to look at it the right way.

Photo by Rowan Ireland

Photo by Rowan Ireland

When David Duchovny Visits Your Dream

Happy Easter. (I know some of you don’t celebrate Easter, but I hope most of us at least got a 3-day weekend out of it.)

When David Duchovny Visits Your Dream

If David Duchovny visits your dream,
it’s not the real person, the one who
never finished his dissertation on magic
and technology in poetry. The man who
enters your mind is really the part of you
who wants to believe, or possibly the one
who fucks over everyone who loves him,
to party in a mansion with wannabe starlets.
It’s true that the one you meet really does
want to help you solve the mystery, and
it’s true that he would give you a piece of
paper when sitting next to you in design class
when you’re unprepared and too burdened
with useless miscellanea to bring what you need
to class. But it’s not true that you have
a deep soul connection to him, or rather,
to that actor, but it is true that you have
a deep soul connection to the one who
plays that role in your internal drama. You
have invited the actor’s face to gaze deadpan
from a facet of the gem of your psyche.
It isn’t real. He isn’t real. Or, he is already
one with you. He is you. He is you. You
talking to yourself, you are the one
you shyly hope to get to know better
one day, as the semester progresses.
Maybe you will like you, if you get to
know yourself better. Maybe you will
help yourself, offer some kindness or
assistance or simple friendship. Some
appreciation of irony, unspoken but shared
nonetheless. Maybe some of your success
and fame will rub off on you, and one day
you’ll be a person people know, someone
people notice, someone they care about,
hope to meet one day. Someone people
dream about. Would you do that for you?

***

I don’t know, there might be a minor change yet, so consider it a draft. Who do you dream about?

Vulture Gifts, and Crying at the Laundromat

The turkey vultures were late this year. I’ve recorded their spring arrival on March 18, or as late as the spring equinox, but it was the 30th and I’d only seen three solitary birds yet. The weather was favorable for them, and prairie burning had begun. Where were the vultures?

I was beginning to worry. Had something happened to them? On other continents, vultures have been greatly stressed due human-introduced toxins. I hadn’t heard of such difficulties in the Americas, but turkey vulture’s range is so extensive, who knows what could happen that I wouldn’t hear about. Did inclement weather delay them?

Maybe because of Saturn retrograde, I’ve been having difficulty moving forward these past couple weeks. We finally got the sewer fixed (blessings on those who work on sewer lines), but it’s still a struggle to move the crap out of the house. I was going to clean things up while Kevin was on a business trip, but . . . I did other things instead, I guess. Still have to take the laundry to Emporia, and I left a big bag at home inadvertently. Clearing, cleansing, completing, the hardest part of life for us, I don’t know why. And it impacts the beginning stages of the next project, and my just-released monster erotica story is going nowhere.

For all these reasons, I was getting pretty worked up about the vultures. What if they were disappearing, like honeybees and monarchs? I need their gifts, desperately: the force of transporting that which has expired to its next incarnation, making room for new life. I got teary at the laundromat, thinking, I don’t know if I can get by without them.

(It didn’t help that, while folding laundry, I stumbled onto this sad Amanda Palmer song.)

I looked for them whenever I went by their roosting spot in Strong City. Yesterday the sun was setting as I took the kids home from Girl Scouts and soccer. It was just the time in the evening when they should be settling down. Where were they? I told the girls they were missing. Rowan said, “Are those vultures?” They were on her side of the car, though, and I couldn’t see them while driving. But they went right over us, low, and yes. “Yes! Two! Three!” And they glided into a nearby tree to join three dozen others already perched, as if they’d been there forever.

The turkey vultures have returned, and the cycle of life expanding, contracting, and rebirthing itself can roll on. Thank you, friends, for coming back.

Wet Kiss

Kevin was on a business trip all last week. It’s so nice to have him back, it inspired this little haiku.

He’s returned home. Now,
two toothbrushes in the cup
sharing a wet kiss.

Kevin and Rachel

Costa Rica Diary: Jeep-Boat-Jeep to La Fortuna

Lake Arenal lies between Monteverde and La Fortuna, so the most direct route utilizes what’s called a jeep-boat-jeep network. We actually went in a van, but the road was very rugged, bumpy, and steep. In some places I would have wondered if a vehicle could pass, had it not been for the calm confidence of the driver. I sat in the back with my seat belt on, and watched the scenery.

Not far out of Monteverde, the cloud forest gives way to cleared pastures, though the mountain grasslands feel as remote as the forest. There were long stretches of dirt road where we didn’t see another vehicle or person. Some slopes were so steep I wondered that cattle could graze there.

This is a regular route, not a chartered van, so we picked up some other passengers. There were a couple teenaged girls who embarked in Santa Elena, but in a village along the way, we picked up a little girl standing in front of her house. (She turned out to be with the older girls.)

Eventually we stopped in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, next to the lake. When I saw the narrow dirt footpath down to the water, I was glad I had packed lightly, and had everything in a backpack.

The boat was the kind with a roof and open sides, and benches for passengers. Everyone got at least a little spray on us as we zipped across the lake. We saw several great egrets near the shores.

In La Fortuna, we checked into Cabanas Rusticas, which turned out to be not so rustic at all. Korey and Valeria had a cabana to themselves, while the rest of us shared a 2-story, 3-bedroom cabana with a full kitchen. There was a lovely garden surrounding us, and a tiny pool where the girls splashed. The cabanas were built in a log cabin style, but were very well-equipped. There were lots of windows on every side of the building, and doors too, all with shutters that could be easily opened. Upstairs, there was a porch with rocking chairs and a perfect view of the volcano. (Volcan Arenal wasn’t active when we were there, so it looked like a regular mountain, when we could see it through the mist.)

They don’t use window screens much in La Fortuna, which wasn’t really a problem. We didn’t get bugs in the cabin, though when I wrote in my journal in the evening, I could see geckos converging on the ceiling of the porch, to catch the bugs flying around the porch light. One night there was a monarch butterfly flying around the light, skillfully avoiding death by lizard. I was surprised to learn that there are monarchs in Central America, though they don’t migrate as they do up north.

The lack of window screens was uncomfortable for me, even though, clearly, the people who live there all the time don’t think twice about it. I probably never told you, dear readers, that one of the reasons I began studying entomology, many years ago, was as a constructive way to channel my childhood phobia of insects. It mostly allayed my fears, though there are rare times when the thought of creepy things hiding in the shadows gets me paranoid. I managed myself, though, at our stay in La Fortuna, and nothing got me.

Veronica on Winter’s End

Rachel’s had a difficult week, and doesn’t feel like writing tonight. There’s so much writing to be done, but so many expectations to fulfill (though, strangely, when I ask her who holds such expectations, she can never seem to provide a name). She didn’t have a vehicle much of the week, and she’s been trying to get someone to dig up her sewer pipe and replace it, with snow on the ground. So she asked me to write tonight in her stead.

At first I thought, not much happening this time of year. Every creature is still holding its breath, waiting for the days to get just a little longer, just a little warmer. But that’s really not true at all. The juncos (Junco hyemalis), also called snowbirds, have been active and visible all winter, and they are still here for a couple more weeks. The cardinals are nesting, as evidenced by their cheery song. A flock of snow geese (Chen caerulescens) flew over, in a northwesterly direction, marking the full moon. I’ve always wanted to see them on the ground, but to date they have invariably eluded me, rising up and continuing their long migration before I arrive at whatever avian rest area they’ve been reputed to frequent. Nevertheless, it’s a privilege to see them over my head, as they fly to the far north to nest.

And the garden? Well, if you’d leaned close to the ground at just the right moment, after the snow melted, you might have been injured by a garlic sprout shooting up so fast you wouldn’t see it until it poked you in the eye. They’re fully two inches tall now. Well, they were yesterday afternoon, who knows, by now they may be two or three times that height. When the year is winding down, I have to force myself to plant garlic; but its appearance in the early spring brings tears to my eyes, it’s such a relief after the interminable winter.

So that’s what we have this week. Rachel will be back next week, one way or another. The current difficult lunation will pass, she’ll get her meds straightened out, and spring will save us all, eventually, as it always does.

What signs of life are stirring in your neighborhood?

I don't have any bird pictures. I did receive a macro lens for Christmas, and it worked for these ants scavenging the remains of a butterfly which had been a meal for a gecko the night before.

I don’t have any bird pictures. I did receive a macro lens for Christmas, and it worked for these ants scavenging the remains of a butterfly which had been a meal for a gecko the night before.

What Brings People to Veronica’s Garden?

Stats are of passing interest on a Sunday morning when church was cancelled for a couple inches of snow. I don’t get very many search term reports anymore. I don’t know why, but I can guess anyway by what posts people are looking at.

A surrealist poem titled “Neptune Direct” is a current favorite, though I like this other Neptune one too. I think it’s probably astrology enthusiasts who find these, though some are simply searching “Neptune.”

There are still frequent views of one post about dreams about witches, but not the other one.

The entomology joke has a certain niche audience.

Wasp totem continues to be popular, though I haven’t written on wasp for a while. I have four posts, and honestly, I don’t know if I can think of anything else to say on the subject.

People also search other totems, as well as Ted Andrews. He clearly has more fans than haters, though the haters have made themselves known to me, via my stats page.

What do you like about Veronica’s Garden? What would you like more of? What brings you to a blog?

Here’s a cat picture.

Costa Rica Diary: Agritourism

The last activity we did in Monteverde was a tour of El Trapiche, which is an agritourism plantation that grows coffee, sugar, and cacao. This was one of the tamer of our adventures. Our guide (whose name escapes me, but you can see pictures of him on their site linked above) was excellent, very knowledgeable and confident. The tour was quite well-done, and we all enjoyed seeing how these plants grow and become the foods we eat. We took a leisurely walk around the farm while chewing chunks of raw sugar cane, which was tasty though too fibrous to eat whole. We also sampled the fruits of both coffee and cacao, which were also surprisingly sweet and tasty, if not terrifically fleshy. We tasted raw beans of both, and the only surprise there was that anyone ever figured out that fermenting and/or roasting those could lead to a food or beverage so fabulously palatable as coffee and chocolate.

We were treated to a demonstration of the traditional ways of pressing sugar cane. They had a water-powered sugar mill, which was fun to watch. There was also an ox-powered mill, and I admit I was a bit distressed to see oxen wearing on their massive necks a gaily-colored yoke that I probably couldn’t even lift. They only had to walk around the mill once, though, and they didn’t seem any more inclined to stop than they had been to start. Everyone was a safe distance to avoid getting splattered when one of the oxen let out an abundant stream of urine. I think that part is usually machine-powered these days. Then we made the traditional form of sugar by stirring the thickened juice until it hardened into a paste. We took a block of it with us, and used it when we baked and cooked on the rest of the trip.

We harvested coffee beans from a field, and we watched the various machines that sort and roast the beans. We tasted cacao beans in different stages of fermentation. Now, if you’ve ever looked up the etymology of the word chocolate, whatever you found wasn’t true. Forget about the Aztecs and the Mayas. In fact, the word is from cacao and some Latin-derived version of milk. So, if you see a product that is called chocolate, but doesn’t have milk in it, it is really only sweetened cocoa, called chocolate because, you know, marketing. If it doesn’t have milk, it isn’t chocolate.

Please don’t tell that to the people at Chocolove. Or this fabulous lady.

We tasted a shot of guaro (distilled spirit of cane), which was more alcoholic than rum, and nearly came back up as fast as I tossed it down.

To settle that, we finished our tour with a delicious little taco filled with a vegetable called arracache, a drink of cane juice and lemon, and a cup of coffee.

We bought coffee to take with us in the shop. Rowan bought a baseball cap that said “Costa Rica.”

And we were off to La Fortuna.

 

Note: Kevin’s and my photos got mixed up on iphoto, so I have no idea who took which. They’re probably all Kevin’s. Also, since Rowan is wearing the Costa Rica baseball cap on the tour, she can’t have bought it in the gift shop at the end. Oh, now I remember, I think she bought it in Santa Elena the day she made friends with a stray dog and it followed us into the supermarket/souvenir shop . . .

Costa Rica Diary: The Tarzan Swing

I wrote last time about the zip line tour at Selvatura Park, which was great, though I discovered myself to be inexplicably afraid of heights. But the Tarzan swing took the fear to another level.

When I was little, I remember my older brother egging me on to do daring things. He liked that I was more of a risk-taker than my sister. Later I loved roller coasters and other adventurous activities. In my twenties . . . let’s just say I did some risky things without thinking twice. I don’t see myself as person who is afraid to do something exciting.

The Tarzan swing was simply a step off a platform while attached to a cable, so there was no danger of falling. The platform was twelve meters high. We’d already zipped over the forest canopy, a hundred feet or more, so twelve meters should be nothing, right? But, the view from the platform wasn’t especially notable, and the stairs went straight up. I’d done plenty of walking already, and didn’t think I needed the thrill. It was optional, so maybe I’d sit this one out. But my daughters would hear none of it. They’re seven and ten, and full of the enthusiasm of youth. My mother-in-law Pat wasn’t sure she needed the Tarzan swing either, but she doesn’t say no to the girls much. They ran ahead of us up the hill to the bottom of the stairs. “Who’ll go first?” “Baba!” (That’s Pat.)

So everyone in the group decided to do it. I hung back, but the girls pushed Pat to the front of the group. She didn’t seem thrilled to go first, but, like I said, she’s not one to say no. Did she have to do it? She did it. Then the kids, my husband, brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and everyone else in the group, except for one other person who thought it would make her sick.

I’m not a sucker for peer pressure. I can say no. But if my sixty-five-year-old mother-in-law can take the jump, surely I ought to be able to, n’est ce pas? If I’m forty-eight and afraid to do adventurous things, what will I be like when I’m sixty-five? What kind of grandmother will I be?

I decided I wasn’t going to let my mother-in-law be more adventurous than I. I would jump. I didn’t know how, but I would find a way. I tried to think of scary things I’d done. Surely there’ve been plenty. All I could think of was finally getting years of back taxes filed, which was an overwhelming task I’d been positive I couldn’t do. (The refunds funded this trip.) But sitting at a desk under a pile of papers didn’t even seem scary compared to this, so that didn’t help. I thought of that Alanis Morissette song, how did it go? Something like, the minute I jumped off was the minute I touched the ground. Thank you. Thank you India. I liked the song. But it was just a song.

The guide on the platform gave a couple people a bit of a nudge on the back when they hesitated. I thought about telling him to push me. But it might be even scarier to be pushed than to step off voluntarily. When I got to the platform, I told him, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Just put your hands right here,” he said reassuringly.

I made myself breathe. I held onto the harness attaching me to the cable. It would hold me anyway, had been tested already, there was nothing to be afraid of, but I was terrified. All I had to do was hold on, and take one step.

He opened the gate. Panic. “I can’t—” I said, and grabbed the railing. Holding onto the railing felt better, even with that gaping opening that threatened to suck me down.

Very calmly, he said, “I need you to put both hands here.”

Yes. Do what he says. It’s probably safer that way, maybe if I fell while holding onto the rail I’d go sideways and tear a knee ligament or something. That would be worse than just doing it the right way. I just have to do it.

I put both hands in place and didn’t wait to be pushed. I closed my eyes and stepped forward.

Half a second of freefall.

Then the cable caught, and it was just like any old playground swing.

It seemed like I should be smiling and laughing, but I didn’t feel happy. When asked how it was, I said, “I did it.” It seemed like that should be triumphant. I’d conquered my fear. I’d beaten the Tarzan swing. But I didn’t feel triumphant either. I just wanted to be back on the ground.

And that seemed wrong too. The whole point of the tour was to have fun, and, no matter hard I looked inside, I couldn’t find any enjoyment there. Maybe it was a waste of money. Maybe I should have stayed back with my father-in-law and enjoyed the entomology museum. I love entomology. Was I just trying to prove I’m not a stick in the mud?

Sitting at my desk here in Kansas, listening to coyotes howl outside, I don’t know the answer to that. But I find if I had the chance right now, I’d march myself right up to that platform and do it again, acrophobia be damned. Because now I know I can, and I’m not going through life dancing with fear like a friend, I’m going to jump right into it. Go ahead fear, suck all the fun out of a day, but you do not win.

Later I told Pat that I’d done it because I didn’t want to be less adventurous than my mother-in-law, and she told me earnestly that she wasn’t sure she was a good role model.

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