Gumberries

My love for crimson clover started my senior year in college. I’d never really paid them much attention before then. Every spring since, I’ve waited expectantly to see them blooming on the side of the road and in yards all over Arkansas in April. They have never failed to appear. Their grassy, earthy smell reminds me of everything alive and good in the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we added two small rooms onto our house last year and repaired septic lines, the dirt work necessitated ruining most of the grass on one side of the house. My husband’s ingenious solution was to spread crimson clover seed across the area. His solution not only covered the muddy, ugly mess in the side yard; it also created a blast of color this spring for me to enjoy.

I’m not the only one who’s enjoyed the clover. Maggie loves learning names of plants and animals. She asked for the name of crimson clover, and then quickly rejected it, dubbing it “gumberries” instead. Gumberries it is. Maggie has frolicked in the gumberries almost every day since they appeared, chasing butterflies, listening to bumblebees buzzing, and picking select gumberries to share with our neighbor’s horse, dubbed Mr. Gray, when we walk down the road on sunny afternoons.


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I recently recorded her chasing butterflies in the gumberry patch. While watching the video later, I expected to be mesmerized by the clover brightly swaying in the breeze, the birds calling to one another, and the yellow butterfly gently resting atop tiny gumberries. Instead, I was captivated by one short moment in the brief video when Maggie clutches her belly in rapture, squealing in glee, “Dragonfly!” The joy in her heart took my breath away.

I watched this moment repeatedly. I felt so lucky to have been there to see my daughter amazed by something so small, something I rarely even notice. Almost immediately, I simultaneously wondered how many times I had overlooked magical moments like this because of my obsessions with being on time, minding our manners, learning the alphabet, or crossing items off my own to-do list. Don’t get me wrong—those things matter, and running a business while staying home with Maggie is more than a full-time job. The laissez faire approach sounds great, but at the end of the day, if no one’s being the Mama, Mama’s business, Maggie, and the household are pretty amuck. I have to be quite the juggler to manage work projects, keep in touch with clients, and provide Maggie with a fun, balanced, semi-educational day. Oh, and keep the house moderately uncluttered and clean, too; my expectations of perfection long since vanished. Then there’s the list of things swimming in my head that simply never get accomplished… exercise, grocery shopping, vaccinations, painting my nails, etc… :).

But nothing matters more than living.

I needed 60 seconds recorded–so I can watch them every time I fret over the list of things I never get accomplished–to remind me to open my eyes, turn on my listening ears, and dig in the dirt. To notice the dragonfly, the beetle, and the eight kittens growing stronger every day, which we’ll soon share with other families. To be where my hands are with my own little kitten, who is four-and-a-half-and-don’t-forget-the-half-part, while she’s here.

Walk and chalk

“Walk. Chalk.”

Each morning, as the hands on the clock tick and tock their way toward the number nine, Maggie’s tiny voice chimes in with these two words. I can literally tell time by them. Her soft, chubby fingers stretch out and grab hold of mine and pull me to the door. I reach for miniature socks before heading down the hall.

IMG_2635Armed with ice water, my trusty camera, tennis shoes, ball caps, and bug spray, we turn the knob and open the back door, beginning Maggie’s favorite part of every morning—walk and chalk.

After strapping Maggie into the sturdy stroller, we make our way through the wet grass, still glistening with dew. First we check on our pups, who are always elated to see the stroller lumbering through the yard. As we fill their bowl with food, they scratch along the fence, and Maggie pants and mimics their whimpers, egging them on. We say “bye bye” to the pups and hit the chip sealed pavement. The sun greets our faces, and Maggie blinks in response but refuses to wear her baseball cap or sunglasses.

IMG_2836Each morning, in the humid, Ozark woodlands, I attempt to keep moving at a fairly rapid pace in an effort to avoid both of us being drenched in perspiration by the time we return to the house. However, it never fails that after taking just a few steps forward, something gorgeous catches my eye on one side of the road or the other. This is the Ozark woodlands, after all—a lush, green, jungle-like wonderland.

I didn’t always see it this way. When I moved to the Ozarks at the age of 10 and lived a mere 25 miles from my current location, I both loathed and liked the place.

I liked my small school and having the opportunity to make new friends, and I loved our tiny church and the delicious potluck dishes prepared on a frequent basis by the elderly ladies. I liked the rickety house we rented in the country on an old dirt road, the rain pinging off the tin roof. I even liked the fact that my breath created puffy bursts in my own frigid bedroom as I gazed at the clear, star-filled sky during winter; sure, the house lacked any real heat source aside from a gigantic fireplace, but I felt like a real live Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I thought that was pretty darn cool. I liked running down the road to my friend Leslie’s house and eating hot popcorn and drinking cold sweet tea in her kitchen and pestering her brother John while he played basketball and imitating her cool older sister Sheryl who danced to Debbie Gibson songs.

I liked things about Arkansas. But I loathed other things. One of the things I loathed was the weather. Having been accustomed to a drier climate in Kansas, I simply hated the Arkansas summers for years. I referred to Arkansas as the armpit of America (in terms of weather, and perhaps in terms of other things, too). I detested the way the atmosphere caused me to sweat profusely from every single pore. I hated having to purchase new white shirts every single season, whether I’d stained the front of them or not, simply due to the sweaty armpit stains. I could go on and on. I just plain hated Arkansas summers.

But something changed. After living in a rural subdivision for five years, commuting for about an hour one way every day, I’d had my fill of “all that.” I’d worked downtown, worn plenty of flashy high heels and jewelry, made enough money to make me feel that I’d arrived, and secured enough jobs to prove to myself that if I made up my mind to do something, I could do it. I was done with that kind of life.

I wanted to go home.

One of my favorite creatures I ever captured in a picture on our front porch, October 2011

One of my favorite creatures I ever captured in a picture on our front porch, October 2011

I began praying about that very idea, and God worked out the details—a lot of details—and I headed home in December of 2010. In January of 2011, my future husband and I purchased our home—nestled in the woods in the foothills of the Ozarks. And I fell head over heels in love with the Ozark woodlands. I took pictures constantly and carried my camera with me everywhere I went, snapping photographs of the endless varieties of species of flora and fauna surrounding me. With a forester and wildlife biologist by my side, I had my own handsome nature Google by my side, too.

IMG_2603This morning, after Maggie and I finished the walking portion of our “walk and chalk” time, I pushed her gently in the swing on the back porch. A quiet hum filled the air. The hum slowly transitioned into a noisy, vibrating whine. I stopped pushing Maggie in her swing for a moment and stepped off the porch, glancing around the corner of the house.

I gulped when I saw a small green tractor in the distance with a mower attachment, driving along the roadside. Tears filled my eyes quickly before I had a chance to form thoughts.

My husband stepped outside to see what the commotion was about.

“Oh, they’re mowing the sides of the road. Good,” he said blankly before noticing my tears.

“I know,” I replied in a weepy voice.

He stopped in surprise and stared at me.

“But they’re taking away all of my pretty things that I take pictures of every day and all of the things that we see on our walk and chalk every day.” And then tears actually fell.

“It’s okay, babe. They will grow back.”

I didn’t wipe away my tears. I’m a shameless flower-loving, picture-taking, Ozark-woodland-obsessed, nature freak.

Us, May 2014

Us, May 2014

I wasn’t actually crying over flowers. I was crying because I realized something important—that I was grateful for every single second I’d taken to pause and thank God for what He’d created, for the seconds I’d taken to notice those beautiful things, for the seconds I’d spent teaching my daughter to praise God for all things bright and small.

Because just seconds after we’d seen those beautiful things that very morning, they were gone.

I was crying because I am thankful that this morning, I have no regrets about how I spent my seconds.

Stalking stillness

That pesky red-bellied woodpecker.

IMG_0229I have stalked that woodpecker since I first noticed him, just a few days after we relocated our bird feeder, handmade by my very own Renaissance man, to a small garden plot right outside my bedroom window.

Each morning when my daughter awakens, her windowsill is one of her first stops. Gazing out of the blurry, century-old glass pane, she points and murmurs “bird… bird” as oodles of male and female cardinals parade back and forth between their nests along the creek bed and the bird feeder. The chickadees, with their stark white and black caps, and spotted, earthy sparrows flit from limb to limb along the tiny flowering tree branches next to the feeder, politely taking turns and never lingering too long over the seed. The gold finches and regal purple finches have lower social standards and squawk and peck at other birds who dare to snag a snack alongside them.

IMG_0526Occasionally, a cruel but beautiful blue jay makes its way to the feeder, bullies the other birds, and grazes as a lone ranger before venturing off to make some other bird’s life miserable.

IMG_9763And if I’m really lucky, I might spy an eastern bluebird, its crimson breast clashing perfectly with its soft blue wings.

Yes, there is a gamut of gorgeous birds gracing the space outside my window.

But the elusive woodpecker has been my focus. My obsession.

When my daughter is napping—because that’s the only time the house is quiet enough for this—I creep into my bedroom with a hot cup of coffee, carefully unlock the window latch, and slide the pane up a few inches. I wrap my furry throw blanket around my cross-legged body and lean in, hoping to capture my feathered friends on film. I’ve probably taken hundreds of pretty shots of cardinals, Juncos, and finches. They’re pretty birds, and they rest for long lengths of time; they’re not easily frazzled or frightened.

My woodpecker, on the other hand, is truly his own animal. He almost constantly moves, hunting and pecking for his prey or craning his neck from side to side, his eyes wary and vigilant. He contorts himself into impossible positions to find what he’s looking for, and once he’s found it, he scurries away to his sanctuary, the strong fortress of the giant old oak tree in our yard.

Most of the time, the woodpecker only appears when I don’t have the time to grab my camera. I see him when I’m changing Maggie’s diaper or reading books with her. Occasionally, I have a few seconds to get positioned for a great photograph, and as soon as he hears the window latch, he disappears. Oh! I’ve grown frustrated waiting for my chance.

IMG_0511This morning, as my fingers veered on the edge of frostbite while snapping pictures of a lovely blue jay, I caught a glimpse of my woodpecker’s blazing red cap in the background. I quickly inhaled and held my breath as I zoomed out, trying to maneuver the camera quickly but quietly.

And there he was, more still and at rest than I’ve ever seen him, staring at me, slightly obscured by the blue jay and the bird feeder. I had my chance, and I took picture after picture of him, often capturing just the tip of his mottled tail.

IMG_0505As I sat there, still and barely breathing for fear of frightening him away, I found myself loving him and feeling akin to him, a snapshot of Bethany in her old skin. Always busy and productive. Distrusting and suspicious of others. Alluring but aloof.

Afraid to stop moving.

Unable to be still.

To be still, my word of the year.

I’ve found the perfect bird to fixate on, one that requires me to while away the hours in silence. A creature that forces me to learn to be perfectly still.

The real world

ImageSomeday, your father will
build me a sunroom
with his hands.

His sweat steadily
dripping, devoted to crafting
contentment in my soul.

And when the screens
keep the flies from filling
our minds with swarming,
buzzing reminders,

the three of us
will sit and sip
sweet tea together there.

And in the cool, quiet,
aqua dusk of summertime,
we will drift away

and sleep there,
the rhythm of cicadas
rocking away everything
but the world,

the real one,
the one God made
for the three of us.