Helpless Against the Storm


Here, in my suburban yard where peonies lie thrashed on the ground, battered by weekend winds and storms, I am grateful to have peonies, rooted to the earth, beside a house, strong on its foundation.

I collected strewn branches this morning, filled a bag with switches from the river birch. Each bending of my body was a prayer for survivors in Oklahoma whose lost trees are the least of their concerns, who have nothing but their own shaken foundations.

Each time I snapped twigs and added them to the compost bag I mourned for broken bodies, those buried yesterday in rubble and, closer to home, our dear friend Leonard lying in his hospice bed.

My body stooping, straightening, snapping, stuffing.

My liturgy to remember, to ask that the ravaged can bear the suffering, find relief, have hope.

Lord, have mercy. And grant us your peace.

Elmer Fudd … without the Rifle

The following story is taken from Untangled: Straight Talk from Passionate Gardeners, a collection of stories and tips published this past spring by the Extension Master Gardeners of Johnson County, Kansas. Our publication team contacted (nagged?) our members for months to get their gardening advice. If you garden in the Midwest, I hope you’ll check it out.


My college-aged daughter told me recently that when she was young she found it strange that I loved bees and hated rabbits. The stinging insects she feared I saw as vital pollinators, and the furry rodents she loved I saw as plant-destroying foragers. I spend lots of energy every spring either cursing rabbits or erecting barriers to keep them from my tender plants. So, few would expect me to write an ode to rabbits. But one time, years ago, their incessant gnawing turned out to be an effective pruning technique.

That spring I had a patch of bachelor buttons that had reseeded from the previous year. The plants were several inches high when I went to bed one night and ¼-inch high when I awoke the next morning. Somehow they survived the assault and again shot up several inches. Again the rabbits nibbled them to the ground. Undaunted, the plants continued to grow, and by then the critters had graciously moved on to other garden pleasures. Within a few weeks the plants were fuller and stronger than they had ever been and yielded a bumper crop of perky blue cornflowers that summer.

Sweet Recognition

This past summer my eight tomato plants yielded eight tomatoes. Not eight on each plant. Eight total. Temperatures reached the mid-90s by mid-June and passed 100 before the month ended. There they stayed, between those two extremes, until Labor Day. It never rained. I stayed inside. My plants withered.

It’s the first time I’ve ever given up on my tomatoes. They’ve always been my greatest summer treat, thanks in part to my Tomato Friend at Family Tree Nursery.

If you only buy tomatoes at the grocery store, you might not realize that they come in way more colors than red and way more flavors than sawdust. They don’t even have to be round. When you decide to grow your own, you can grow pink, yellow, orange, purple and striped varieties. They can be tart, sweet, acidic and mild; oval, pear-shaped, pointed and squatty; as small as marbles and as big as dessert plates; juicy for eating fresh and meaty for using in sauces. And they can mature early, late and any time in between. For a decision-challenged person like me (my life motto is “It depends”), the choices are paralyzing.

So I was grateful one spring to be alone in the tomato rows of Family Tree Nursery with an employee watering seedlings. “What’s the difference between Sweet Million and Sweet 100?” I asked. “I’ve heard about these Husky Gold tomatoes. What do you think of them?” She patiently answered my questions and at least a dozen more as I wandered the aisles and returned for more help.

I eventually left with five types of tomatoes, along with various peppers she sold me on. Except during a brief stop I made for herbs a few weeks later, I didn’t see her anymore that season.

I returned the following spring, ready to wade through the rows of tough decision making. At least this year I had my plant tags from the previous year and knew where to get started. I spied my Tomato Friend, as she was about to be dubbed, again watering seedlings. “Oh, hi,” she said, as I walked by. “I was wondering if I would see you this year. We got in a new orange-colored cherry tomato that everyone’s excited about. It’s super sweet. I put one aside for you if you’d like to try it.”

I looked over my shoulder, sure she was talking to someone else. But I was the only one there. How had she remembered me and our brief conversation about cherry tomatoes 52 weeks earlier?

Of course I tried the new variety. And of course the Sun Gold she saved for me was my favorite tomato that summer. Come to think of it, it’s still the sweetest variety I’ve ever eaten.