A Cleansing Rain and Remembering Jackie

I started recording this brief video clip 30 seconds too late.

April 2020 was close to a conclusion. The evening brought a prototypical spring shower, no blowing wind, thunder, or lightning, just a good steady rain. I sat on the first concrete step of the narrow porch, “soaking” in the view before me. I had completed a few small landscaping projects earlier in the day and was grateful for the precipitation.

If I had started recording earlier you would have heard the sound of a locomotive’s horn in the distance. The train must have been going through a series of intersections because the mournful blast sounded, again and again, reverberating through the rain-sodden air, each wail becoming a little fainter until it finally faded away. The last notes left only the rain rushing down the aluminum gutters and the chorus of frogs competing in the soundscape.

The damp soil exuded the scent of fertility and new growth. The rinse cycle of spring had washed away any dust or detritus from the previous day. It was a season of new beginnings, rebirth, a season of hope and promise.

I needed this rain as much as the flowers, trees, and shrubs in front of me. I felt the stress, cares, and tears of the day melt away as if they had joined the rain gushing into the drainpipe, swept away into streams, creeks, and rivers to eventually join the sea.

We lost a valuable and much-loved member of our design team this week. Jackie had begun her service at Concordia Publishing House on July 24, 1967. I started to refer to her as a matriarch, but that would be inaccurate. Matriarch implies someone in a position of power and control. Jackie was none of those things. She possessed the quintessential servant’s heart.  With Jackie, it was all about the mission.  Her dedication to Concordia Publishing House, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and her local congregation, Trinity Soulard was the driving force in her life.

In her almost 53 years of service, Jackie had witnessed multiple revolutions in the publishing industry; hot type, phototypesetting, desktop publishing. Through each phase she adapted, she learned, and she kept up. I believe it was her desire to always learn new things that kept her young at heart. She knew she was not as fast as some of the “whippersnappers,” but she was more than willing to work long days or weekends to make up the difference … its that dedication thing.

We are working from home these days. The technology makes it doable, but we are reminded at times like this that we were not designed for social distancing. We bounced memories and stories back-and-forth about Jackie as best we could through chat channels, but there is a need for physical hugs and shared tears.

Jackie died by herself, but she was not alone. Never married, she had few blood relatives, but she was part of a large family.

I was not able to record the horn of the locomotive as it rumbled down the tracks, but the memory is clear and sharp in my mind. My memories of Jackie are equally clear; her hearty laugh and mighty sneeze. Her recollection of past projects, illustrators, and fonts that we all relied on. Her quick wit and dry humor. She took pride in her craft without any self-pride. She possessed the perfect balance of spunk, humor, work ethic and humility to be the perfect coworker.

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! …”

Everyone loves the sound of a train in the distance.
Poppy

Mimsy and I Walk a New Path

We are walking new paths these days, literally and metaphorically.

Three weeks ago we moved from our beloved house where our family lived for 27 years, and the town of Ferguson where we lived for 35 years. Toss in a little Corona-virus, shake well, and March-April 2020 became months to remember.

Walking a Japanese Chin will never be aerobic exercise … at best we amble. That pace is not without its benefits. Mimsy has endless opportunities to stop and sniff out new and exotic smells, I have plenty of time for thinking and reflection. Mimsy does not watch any cable news networks and has no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts (at least not that I know of). But Mimsy knows as much about the prospects of Covid-19 as I, and after a brief period of self-flagellation flipping between Fox News and CNN (which could be reporting from two different planets), she may know as much as any of the talking heads and experts.

What is certain is that the natural world is proceeding exactly as designed with no regard for the Corona-virus or what we silly humans are doing. A slight tilt of the earth’s axis and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere the days become longer and the temperatures start to rise. Each walk reveals a slow motion shift in nature’s color palette. Three weeks ago the trees reached heavenward with limbs and barren fingers of twig and branch. Today  a haze of yellow-green new foliage softens the skyline.

A male cardinal in the tree ahead of us is belting out his spring-time mating song. I don’t speak Cardinal, but have a pretty good idea what he is saying.

“Hey ladies, look at me, I’ve got brightest plumage of any bird around. I can help you build the strongest and biggest nest in the county. Pay no attention to that guy down the road, I’m much better looking!”

A sudden gust of wind loosens the last of this mornings shower trapped in new leaves above us. For a few seconds we are baptized with cold, fresh droplets. The rain dampened earth below carries the scent of fertility and the promise of new growth.

Spring blossoms make their appearance and strut down natures fashion runway. Some fade quickly, others last for weeks, but all attract the attention of the bees and bumblebees, who go about their busyness oblivious to their role in this divine design.

Seasons change.

The pace of that change depends on your perspective and experience. I have seen 65 springs come and go and hope to see many more. Time will tell if we have over-reacted or under-reacted to the Corona-virus, but the spring of 2020 will be one that we all remember.

Mimsy and I will continue to take our walks and we will continue to hold onto our core values of faith, family, and friends.

Peace, Poppy

A few snapshots from our spring walks:

A Small Miracle in Ferguson

The root vegetables were roasting as part of tonight’s dinner; potatoes, carrots and onions. Even at 400+ degrees it takes a while. I took a break and walked out on the front porch here in famous Ferguson to enjoy the spring evening. At 6:30 the sun was still high enough to cast long shadows and back light everything in it’s direction. It has been a cool to cold spring, the azaleas along our front porch were a full 3 weeks behind last years blooming season, but tonight they left no doubt that spring had finally arrived. The crickets, katydids, tree frogs and cicadas were still dormant, leaving the job of the spring symphony to the birds. They were up to the task with chirps, warbles, trills, etc.

As I looked toward the setting sun, I noticed a pair of tiny white dots in my vision, floating just above the azaleas. I don’t have the best of eye sight, my first thought was that those specs were floaters. I forced my eyes to focus and realized that they were not defects in my vision, but gnats.

Gnats, even the name implies something to swat away, a nuisance. The most insignificant of the insignificant. I watched as they rose and fell in an aerial ballet, no doubt doing what most life forms are doing this time of year … procreating the species. I spent about 1 point 5 seconds wondering how gnats “do it” then quickly assigned that thought to the category of “mystery’s I really don’t want solved.”

In the big global picture, the little ecosystem in front of me is insignificant. There are no tropical rain forests, tundras, deserts or arctic reaches, but there are probably no less than 20 varieties of weeds in my front yard alone, along with squirrels, a variety of birds, numerous insects (seen and unseen) and Mrs. G, our feral cat, who is likely viewed as the T-Rex of Elizabeth Avenue by the birds and rodents visiting my front yard.

I stood in awe, observing the life forms, the growth, the melodies, the smells that just a month before did not exist. It is a miracle that happens every year. A commonplace miracle that could be easy dismissed, but a miracle nonetheless.

I don’t understand how it all happens and that’s okay. Does God create and control every little detail or did he set things in motion and let natural selection take over? I don’t know and honestly, don’t care. I’m content to be an observer of the beauty and complexity, besides my family is waiting for me inside, along with some roasted vegetables.

Poppy

(p.s. A warning to the assorted rodents, birds and young squirrels, God has given the gift of hunting to Mrs G … look out!)

Great Flocks of Robins

If this day had entered a beauty contest, she would not have won any of the competitions; not the evening gown, swimsuit or talent phases. At best she might have managed a consolation prize, just for being a spring day and not the winter version. It was not a pretty day!

It had rained off and on all day, the sun was AWOL, and the temperature hovered in the mid 40’s. Roiling banks of low hanging graphite colored clouds appeared almost as solid as the asphalt beneath my feet. There was no doubt this was a spring day though, the calendar proclaimed it and signs of its arrival were everywhere.

When Mimsy and I left the house for our late afternoon stroll, I took in a deep breath of damp air. Ahh, the bouquet of spring; the rich fertile scent of moist earth, poised to bring forth new growth, faint odors of last seasons fallen leaves that had escaped the clutching fingers of the rake, and the fragrance of new grass. If I detected this potpourri of spring scents, I could only imagine what Mimsy with her heightened olfactory nerves was enjoying.

There were no less than 4 or 5 robins in the front yard, busily disturbing the clumps of grass and weeds in search of insects and worms. At some prescribed day in early winter, all robins must receive an eviction notice, demanding an immediate relocation. Where do they go? I have never seen great flocks of robins flying south or returning north. A quick internet search would provide the answer, but I don’t mind a little mystery here and there. I am content to sit back and enjoy the miracle.

Once again, my weeds have successfully survived the winter. God must have a deep and abiding love for weeds and mosquitoes. He gave them the gift of survival, the ability to pop back every spring regardless of how frigid the temperatures drop during the previous season.

“You wouldn’t last two days,” I tell Mimsy, “Does that mean God loves mosquitos and weeds more than you?”

She looks up, chuffs, and continues walking.

That Mimsy does not posses the independent survival attributes of the weeds and mosquitoes, does not concern her. She is secure in the knowledge that she has people who love her. She knows her needs will be met, that she will be taken care of, no matter how cold the winters or how long they last. It’s a level of trust I’m still working on.

As we turn to go back home, I smash the first mosquito of the year against the back of my hand.

Poppy

Waiting for Spring

Dinner was simmering. It was chili. Well, chili-ish, it was missing a few ingredients I thought I had on hand (tomatoes). Thankfully the grilled cheese sandwiches saved the day (one slice of cheddar, one slice of provolone, you’ll be a hero).

I stepped out on the front porch.

Tonight was the eve of the official first day of spring. Breathing deeply, I could smell the earth and the scent of emerging growth. Our porch, like the one pictured on the home across the street, runs the length of the house. I’ve a theory, totally unsupported by research, that world peace could be achieved if everyone had a front porch. A place for reflection, a spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and watch the world that is your community go by. A place for sitting. A place for greeting neighbors. A place for watching the sun rise or set.

I’ve walked out of our front door onto the porch thousands of times. I’ve seen that tree an equal number of times. I have walked under it’s shade more times than I can remember. Tonight I was struck by its anticipation.

Our house was built in 1890. I’m guessing the house across the street can’t be too far off that timeline. The houses here in my neighborhood of famous Ferguson were constructed pre-bulldozer. The lots weren’t leveled, the basements were dug by hand, and unless a tree was in the exact location a house was planned, it was allowed to stand.

I’m not smart enough to tell you the species of the tree in the photo or its age. But I can tell you it’s dang ancient. It towers over a two-story house that most of us would consider old. It has stood by a street that was once dirt and provided passage to horse and buggy. It now stands sentinel over paved roads and automobiles. It has provided shelter for hundreds of generations of birds. It has withstood storms and tornadoes. In this current season, its gaunt limbs are raised in supplication. It waits for spring.

I too wait for spring. It is a time of waiting, a time of Lent. Then comes a time of new growth, a time of resurrection. A time of hope.

I really don’t like winter. Okay, let’s be honest, I hate winter. It’s cold, duh, it’s lifeless, colorless, and generally depressing. But without winter would I truly appreciate spring? Without barren seasons, would I truly appreciate fruitful ones?

I walked back into the house. I was greeted by the smells of mediocre chili, the chatter of a loving family …and hope. Spring is coming.

Peace, Poppy

 

A Few Spring “Ferguson” Resolutions

Ferguson2

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference …” Elie Wiesel

Ahh, Easter Sunday, a time of contemplating resurrection, new birth, new beginnings and new hope. Spring has arrived here in Ferguson, I can tell because all of my weeds are coming back strong!

In a couple of days we will hold municipal elections to vote in some new Council Members. I expect a record turnout, which is a great start to shedding apathy. However if we emerge from our indifference just long enough to vote, then return to our apathy, expecting the Ferguson City Council to solve all of our problems, Ferguson will never achieve its potential.

Most of us are still in shock that our sleepy, pleasantly diverse little town is now in the national spotlight. Everyone from those in the highest offices of this country to anyone with a Facebook account has no shortage of advice, condemnation and yes, even ridicule to offer. Most of those people have never visited Ferguson, never talked to a Ferguson resident, police officer or protester. Fortunately none those people no matter how powerful they are control the fate of Ferguson. We do!

I purposefully skipped any New Years resolutions, but I’m ready now for a few “Spring”, Ferguson themed resolutions. (please don’t mistake these for being preachy, they are aimed only at myself)


  • Make the effort to get to know more neighbors, shake some hands, talk face-to-face, not behind a keyboard … listen.
  • Whenever possible support local businesses from all parts of town.
  • Seek opportunities to be a peacemaker.
  • Learn to ignore those who only want to sow discord and hate. I can’t “fix” them, but I can ignore them.
  • Celebrate our diversity.
  • Accept that I can’t straighten everyone and everything out (let it go Poppy).
  • As much as is possible, see everyone as a child of God, without my own filters.


“Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other”.
Elie Wiesel