A Healing Pause

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It’s been weeks since I’ve been  outside, really outside, by myself, soaking up all the goodness of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. Finally, I went to the refuge last Sunday and it felt so very good.

A pair of geese met me near the path and a small flock of geese quietly strolled the grassland in the distance.

I’ve let other things keep me from taking the time to do the thing that keep me balanced and make me happy to my very core. It’s my own fault, I get busy doing the things I think I should do and forget to do the things I love. In this time of uncertainty, and fear, a quiet walk and connection with nature can set you back on an even keel, that’s what it it did for me.

Maybe there are places where the Tualatin River runs hard and swift,  but the vantage points I’ve had make it seem the very definition of a lazy river.

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AS I walked through the refuge, a small flock of Chickadees focused on their search for insects and paid no attention to me. Chickadees are always charming and  friendly,  never seeming to worry much about the presence of humans.

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Chickadee

While watching the Chickadees I was excited by a quick glimpse of bright blue wings and rosy chest. Was it a Bluebird? I haven’t seen a Bluebird for quite a few years. In my excitement, I wasted time unsuccessfully trying to get a picture, instead of just enjoying the lovely creature. I’m choosing to believe that I saw a Bluebird Sunday morning.

The forested part of the refuge was wet and muddy thanks to recent rain and snow. I made a mental note to take my shoes off in the garage when I got home. It was worth the mud to find this tall Oregon Grape brightly blooming in the midst of a tangle of trees and brush.

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Oregon Grape
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A Single Trillium

A fellow wanderer pointed out a small bouquet of Trillium deep in the underbrush. If Trillium are blooming, it really is spring!

My Sunday morning walk in the fresh air with birds, trees, the Tualatin River, Rock Creek, and the brisk cold wind for company was long overdue. I must remember not let other things get in the way.

Please take time to remember the small pleasures that give you peace, and stay well.

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The highlight of Sunday morning? I saw a Western Bluebird! Maybe.

 

False Spring

I’ve been sick and tired of the cold, gray, wet world we’ve been living in for weeks. Then, as though to answer a prayer, the sun came out to play for an entire day recently!

By early afternoon, I only needed a light jacket to be outside. The streets had filled with children riding bikes and scooters, tossing balls, and celebrating the arrival of sunshine.

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Grownups were walking dogs, and greeting each other on the street. There is a particularly friendly ambiance in the air when an unexpected sunny day follows weeks of cold rain.

Teddy and I eagerly left the house planning a long walk around Gettman Trail, but we were barely out the door when he began favoring his right front paw. For his sake, I opted for the shorter walk around Shaad Park. His limp  disappeared by the time we got to the park making me wonder if the little dog had a reason to fake it.

The last time we visited Shaad Park it was a cold and foggy morning (Cancelled Flights). Teddy and I were alone on the hill that day. there were no hikers and no children using the playground.

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This sunny day was different. Grandparents sat on a bench near the playground watching children use the slide and play in the sand.

With the fog gone, we found brilliant views waiting for us on top of the hill. Teddy and I stood by ourselves soaking up warm sunshine and fresh air, feasting our eyes on the  valley and the hills surrounding it.

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Blue Jays, perky little wrens, and Robins flew noisily from one large old oak to another. They were far too busy to pose for me. The ground was wet and sponge-like from recent rains. Muddy water threatened to fill my shoes but I took the soggy path anyway.

I knew it wouldn’t last of course. It’s not really spring just yet. That sunny day was just a short reprieve from the monotony of winter, but it did remind me to be patient.

In only weeks, the birds will begin the busy nesting season, daffodils will push through moist warming soil, and lipstick-red tulips will brazenly declare true spring. Thanks to a little taste of sunshine the other day, I’m willing to wait.

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There’s almost always a delightful collection of Tonka Trucks in the sand pit. They are only temporarily abandoned. The owners had been called home the afternoon I was there.

Baby Steps, Missteps, Next Steps

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”               Robert Swan, OBE, FRGS – First person to walk both poles.

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It’s easy to believe that we are helpless to make a difference; but we are only helpless if we surrender to apathy.

Recycling is even more complicated and less feasible now that China is not accepting our plastic waste. The New York Times reports that more than 300 cities and towns across the country have given up on recycling programs that were started in the 1970’s. Since recycling was never a good solution for plastics anyway, this is a great time to do our best to quit them.

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In early November, when I decided to begin drastically reducing my personal contribution to the glut of plastic trash, I promised to share my progress, failures and setbacks (Kicking the Habit).  Every change I’ve made has been a small step and every change has been challenging.

Challenging, but not impossible. Plastic is everywhere and I’m learning to question everything I buy; groceries and fast food as well as household and personal products.

Here are the baby steps I took in December:

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Bathroom paper – Retail outlets sell TP wrapped in plastic, though it is available on Amazon in large boxes of 48. I am excited about a young company called Who Gives a Crap (https://us.whogivesacrap.org).  Your choice of TP from this company is recycled or bamboo. Rolls are wrapped in attractive, recyclable paper and delivered to your doorstep in boxes of 48. This Australian organization uses half of their profits to help provide clean toilet facilities in areas of the world without them. As if all that weren’t enough, the company has a friendly and humorous approach to everything they do, and the product is gentle enough for the most tender tush.

Razor – I tossed a pretty pink plastic disposable razor in December. Hundreds of my old razors sit-in in land fills somewhere, refusing to ever go away, waiting for a future archaeologist who will seriously question the wastefulness of generations born during The Age of Plastic.

The greenest choice for my shaving implement would have been a used stainless-steel razor. They aren’t hard to find, but I’m only human, so I compromised and bought a pretty and feminine stainless steel razor on Etsy. It should last for a lifetime.

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Tea Bags – Yes, cutting down on plastic really is a matter of baby steps.  Millions of us use several tea bags every day and have for years. My favorite tea, Stash Double Spice Chai, comes in a plastic-wrapped box. Individual tea bags are wrapped in paper coated with aluminum on the inside and plasticized on the outside. The wrapping cannot be recycled.

I bought a stainless-steel tea infuser and loose chai tea at the grocery store. It was an easy, no-waste solution.

New Stainless Steel Mug with Stainless Steel Straw – Once or twice a month I enjoy a Diet Pepsi or Coke. I’m not ready to cure myself of that small vice, but haven’t had one since my November vow to reduce waste. Part of my January goal will be researching which restaurants will let me fill my mug with cola without using a disposable cup.

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Misstep: I should have bought this item when I was at the grocery store. It came from Amazon wrapped in plastic. My Amazon habit will be difficult to overcome

Next  Steps

January will mean more baby steps, replacing plastic items and containers as they run out. Saving glass jars for refrigerator storage in lieu of plastic containers and finding new products to replace old favorites sold in plastic.

If you are thinking about cutting down on plastics, or are in the process of making it happen, please share your valuable knowledge and experience with the rest of us.

Books

Plastic Free, How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, by Beth Terry.

Plastic, a Toxic Love Story, by Susan Freinkel

Cancelled Flights

 

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My little red dog was happy to inspect gopher holes and follow his nose at Schaad Park the other day. On the other end of the leash, I was disappointed that a cold, thick fog had erased the view from the top of the hill.

Schaad Park, on Eagle Street in Newberg, has a small playground with a sandy play area where neighborhood children often leave their Tonka trucks overnight. An impressive thirty-foot slide on the playground is said to be the longest in Oregon.

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Despite the discouraging fog that morning, I decided to climb the hill and walk the mile-long Schaad Park Loop, up the zig-zag path to the top of the hill, around the perimeter of the winter-yellowed grass and craggy trees that make up a slice of precious Oak Savannah.

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From the hilltop, the valley below had disappeared in the fog; the community, the hospital in the distance, and the green hills beyond. All of it temporarily erased. Sounds were muffled by the fog so that Teddy and I faced the quiet morning alone and in silence.

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I wouldn’t want that foggy gray silence all the time, but it was eerily beautiful for a morning walk.

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Scrub jays usually hang out on the hill but that morning not a single one could be heard screeching or seen darting through the trees. There was no bird noise at all.

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One small bird sat quietly in a bush not far from us. She took note of me and Teddy, turning her head to look at us, but refusing to be startled out of her perch.

 

A small flock of Juncos, usually such noisy little chirpers, sat quietly together in a large bush.

Yesterday, as the sun was shining, we returned to the top of the hill.  Scrub Jays flew and screeched noisily while Robins and Juncos flitted about and darted from tree to tree.

The fog was gone, regularly scheduled flights had resumed.

Happy 2020 to You!

 

 

 

Little Lane

 

IMG-1849Last month I spent a delightful week in Arkansas with my brother Ken, and his wife Georgia. We had never met before this year. In fact, we hadn’t been aware of each other’s existence when Ancestry.com connected us.

I’ve much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. There is the family I’ve treasured all my life, and now the unearned bonus of warm and wonderful new family connections.

Life is good.

My brother and his wife live on Little Lane, a pleasant country road less than an hour from Little Rock. Little Lane must be about a quarter mile long. Five or six homes, each with some acreage, sit along each side of the road. One end of the road meets a smooth two-lane country highway that invites speed and has almost no safe shoulder for a walker. On the other hand, an old logging road at the other end of Little lane felt like a beautiful place to walk one sunny October morning.

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Little Lane

As I started down the dusty old logging road I noticed logging debris, and many birds  flitting in and out of the bushes I was wishing I’d brought my binoculars and tempted to follow one path that led into a small treed canyon where there might be a stream,  but I decided to save that path for another day.  Instead, I headed toward the pine forest some distance ahead. It was bound to offer pleasant exploration.

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Beginning of Logging Road

After strolling for a few minutes, I came to a fork in the road. As Yogi Berra once suggested, I took it, carefully noting the direction I was taking so I wouldn’t get lost on the way back. I  had walked for another ten minutes or so when I saw a small homemade metal structure. The legs of the structure supported a platform four or five feet off of the ground and the platform had old carpeting hanging down so that a person could sit there without being seen. I congratulated myself on recognizing that the structure was a blind. I’d seen them on National Geographic and other wildlife programs.

I continued on for a few feet as I contemplated the usefulness of a blind for observing birds and other wildlife.

Then I had a thought, “Hunters also use blinds. It seems more likely that was a hunting blind.”

Maybe I felt just a little bit uneasy then, but not very much. The blind was tipping over and the old carpeting looked like it had been hanging there for several years. It was probably something someone used years ago.

Just the same, turning around and heading back to Little Lane suddenly felt like the right thing to do.

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As I retraced my steps, I noticed two men walking toward me. One of the men had dark hair and a tidy dark beard. When I saw the stern look on his face, I was sure I’d made a mistake.

“You mind if I ask who you are?” the bearded man said, “This is my land, I recently bought it.”

Pretending I wasn’t at all intimidated, I offered my hand, “Hi, my name is Susan.”

I pointed to my brother’s house only a few doors away, “I’m visiting my brother Ken and his wife Georgia. I apologize for trespassing. I assumed this was an old county or logging company road. I won’t do it again.”

“My name is Charles, but people call me Coot,” the bearded man said. “My friend here is Gene.”

“Oh! “I said, “Gene, you must be Georgia’s brother-in-law. She told me you lived near here.”

Charles spoke up again and pointed to the nearest house. “We were talking together over there and we couldn’t figure out why a woman would be walking out there in the woods, not wearing orange, on the first day of deer season.”

“Deer season?” I said.

“Yes, you didn’t know?” Coot said.

“No, I didn’t. You can be sure I won’t be out there again.”

After that we had a long, friendly, chat about the neighborhood and Gene’s connection with Ken and Georgia. 

“I don’t mind if you walk in there,” Coot said, “just wear orange. You’re not legal if you’re not wearing orange.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ll just come back another time – when it’s not deer season.”

“Are you a city girl?” Charles asked.

“I guess so,” I said, “Thanks for not shooting!”

 

 

Season of the Toadstool

It’s the fall fungi season. Mushrooms began appearing everywhere near the end of September. I’ve been enjoying the huge variety of fungi this fall, and wanted to share some of them. The little beauty below, with the delicate purple cup and pretty shape is my favorite so far. I stumbled on all of these this month during my daily walks in Newberg. Mushrooms are not plants or animals, though some say they are most closely related to animals.

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This white mushroom was all alone 15 feet up the tree.
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Gorgeous mushroom colony growing on a dead hazelnut tree
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A lovely Bouquet
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Just pushing through the soil

 

 

 

 

 

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Also emerging from the soil

 

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I think this is the largest wild mushroom I’ve ever seen. I had nothing to photograph next to it but Teddy (see below) in order to demonstrate how huge it was. In a lawn in Newberg.

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Ghost Town

During my early morning walk, I stumbled across a small hazelnut orchard.

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The trees in that orchard didn’t look healthy. Leaves that should have been soft and green were mostly brown and brittle. Great chunks of dead branches covered the ground. The dead branches still clinging to the trees posed naked and stark against the blue sky.

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The first day I visited the orchard, I saw  many sickly trees and dusty ground. Missing were insects, and small songbirds though there were plenty of birds in the green shrubs and blackberries surrounding the orchard. The only sounds in the orchard were the rasping screeches of a single Steller’s Jay and the eerie scream of a soaring Red-Tailed Hawk high overhead. I did see signs of predation on the path; coyote scat, remnants of bunny fur, and a sad pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the dust near the blackberries.

At home later that first day, I researched hazelnut trees and read about local orchards. I learned that many hazelnut orchards had been stricken by a blight in recent years. I wondered if that is what happened to the trees.

Despite the sensation of a lifeless graveyard for dying trees, there is something beautiful about the quiet orchard. I had to visit it again to see what I might have missed.

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The orchard offers no cover for small prey animals. Yet when I took the time to wait in silence, watching the long, wide path between the surrounding bushes and the hazelnut trees, a single bunny eventually popped out from beneath thorny blackberries to sit in the sun. Two or three minutes later a squirrel dared to run across open ground to a nearby tree. A minute after that, and twenty feet farther down the row, a small chipmunk, put on a burst of speed and risked his life to dash across the path to the hazelnuts. Without my tripod, and quite a bit of patience, it was impossible to capture a picture of the dangerous high-speed run from cover to hazelnuts.

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This little guy scolded me from his perch in one of the trees.

Sometimes first impressions mislead us. The weary little orchard wasn’t quite dead. A few trees still struggled. Life still stirred. As long as I stayed quiet and out of the way, one small creature after another bravely dashed from the brush to the small bounty of nuts.

All the while a Red Tail Hawk sat biding his time, and occasionally screaming, from a tall tree nearby.

 

Three Thunderstorms

Last April, at my home in Milwaukie, I enjoyed one particularly wild and stormy night.  I slept better than I had in weeks that night.  It wasn’t that the storm didn’t wake me; but each time I woke I went back to sleep enjoying the thunder, the wind, and the pounding rain.

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My neighbors at the time had two or three tall fir trees in their yard. If those trees had lost their footing in the soil, they might have destroyed one end of the house. That could have been unfortunate for Teddy and me as we slept in the shadow of the firs. But a small group of healthy firs are safer than a lone tree. They entangle their roots and protect each other from the elements.

I relaxed in my bed that night and enjoyed the staccato of fir cones bouncing across the roof, and branches hitting the shingles then rolling toward the ground, or catching in the gutters. The relentless rain, so dreary in daytime, is just a lullaby at night.

A week ago, here in Newberg, we had a small thunderstorm. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as the spring storm, but it was a pleasure.

I was eight years old when I first remember a thunderstorm. My mother came into the bedroom late one night and shook me awake.

“Get up and come with me!” she said,  “I have something to show you.”

On our tiny covered front porch she had set up two chairs.

“I wanted you to see the thunderstorm!” she said.shutterstock_285666491

We sat there, watching lightening fill the night sky. The storm seemed to be directly overhead.  I don’t remember if there was rain.

My mother’s face was lifted to the spectacle over our heads. She was smiling and full of awe. The mental torments she lived with were absent that night. She was happy and she wanted to share it with me.

I think that’s why I still love a storm.

 

Close Call

Teddy and I walked the Gettman Loop by the golf course a few days ago. There was a large stand of  blackberry bushes covered in juicy, ripe berries at the beginning of the path.
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Teddy
After enjoying a few of the sweet berries, we walked along the golf course until the trail dipped sharply. Suddenly, we were in the middle of a forest surrounded by tall trees, ferns, and thick underbrush. Not quite full light yet, the heavy canopy made the forest feel like dusk.
As we walked, the only signs of life were the soft sound of my sneakers on the dirt, small birds calling, and occasional rustling in the bushes. Half-way through the forest trail, Teddy stopped abruptly, stayed cautiously behind my legs and stared intently into the brush. When I tugged on his leash, he refused to move past whatever was lurking a mere three feet ahead. I trusted the dog sensed something, but I couldn’t see what it was.
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I remembered a cougar recently being reported near the Tryon Creek Natural area in Portland. If a cougar visited near my friend Suzy’s home in Oregon City (Suzy’s Gardens)  last year, only blocks from a busy business area, why wouldn’t a cougar  be here, in the dark early dawn of the forest?
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Photo: Shutterstock
I imagined myself fighting off a cougar while Teddy ran for his life and I felt no confidence at all about the outcome. I reached for the pepper spray in my jacket pocket. Not much bigger than a tube of lipstick, my weapon seemed more likely to convince an angry cougar that he wanted me dead!
There we stood, me and Teddy, alone in the dim early morning light on the far side of the golf course where not a soul would hear me scream… because no one else was foolish enough to be in the forest before dawn while hungry killers with huge incisors and sharp claws confidently prowled the underbrush.
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Should I boldly march forward or retreat? Was I doomed either way? As I weighed my options, a pair of chipmunks tumbled out from the underbrush onto the path in front of us. I jumped and yelped loudly. You might say I screamed. Either way, the terrified little creatures fled back to where they had come.
Obviously Teddy let his imagination get the best of him.

Labor of Love

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David and Lenda Black worked side-by-side on their Woodburn home for thirteen years. As they worked, they turned a modest 1970’s home and lot into a one-of-a-kind garden showplace. They have artfully blended the tidy look of a formal garden with the relaxed warmth of home and garden; a place where one might wander and lose track of time for hours.

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David & Lenda Black

Tall fir trees surround parts of David and Lenda’s back yard, making a lovely backdrop for flower beds and providing home to a pair of large hawks (possibly Northern Harriers). While Lenda and I savored lunch on the patio, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels, enjoyed sunflower seeds at their nearby feeding station.

 

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Partial view of back garden as seen from the screened patio (to see the back yard before the project began 13 years ago, go to the end of this article)

Although there is plenty of plant variety in David and Lenda’s yard, it’s not hard to guess that Hydrangeas are Lenda’s favorite.

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“Buttons & Bows” Hydrangea

 

“If I could have only one flower in my garden, it would be Hydrangeas,” Lenda said.

 

 

 

 

Hydrangeas bloomed in many colors that day, some varieties with flowers so unusual Lenda had to tell me they were Hydrangeas.

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“Annabell” Hydrangea (Lenda sometimes calls them “Mopheads”

 

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Hydrangea with Lace Cap Flowers

Like most gardeners, Lenda admits that she sometimes sees only the weeds that appear overnight and forgets to appreciate what she and David have created.

Every corner of David and Lenda’s garden is well-loved. The side yards are tended and cultivated as lovingly as the back and front yards. Every bed is home to many happy plants, and flower beds have pleasing shapes and soft edges. The beds seem balanced, with each plant seeming to belong exactly where it is, though Lenda says they didn’t plan the garden in advance.

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Lenda calls this spectacular Hydrangea “Pink Spirit”

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As Lenda and I walked, I realized what a generous source of life a well-loved garden can be. Everywhere I looked there was movement; hummingbirds, bees and other insects, tiny white butterflies moving from bush to bush, and huge yellow and black Swallowtail Butterflies. The garden was teeming with creatures dancing quickly from plant to plant, and flower to flower, while colorful Goldfinches took turns at the feeders.

 

 

 

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One of many lush spots in David & Lenda’s gardens

As we walked through the yard, I couldn’t help but imagine the balance of heavy labor and tenderness that created Lenda’s garden.

 

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A portion of the side yard. Just beyond the daisies is the vegetable garden.

“I look to the garden for peaceful reflection and to keep the body in motion,” Lenda said. “David considers himself a Jack of all trades, master of none; yet he constantly amazes me with his ability to learn new skills.He has done all of the remodeling of our home and has built all of the garden structures.”

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One of David’s creations built to support the huge Wisteria. On the other side of this structure is a play area for grandchildren and a strawberry patch for the children (and the birds!).

David created the door that leads from the house to the covered patio and the back garden. It is simple and lovely, made of straight grain fir, which I will admit means absolutely nothing to me. I only know that I find the door very beautiful.

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From Inside Looking out to the patio and garden.

The first time I saw that door it seemed to speak me, “Welcome, I am an invitation, a promise that you will be delighted when you walk through to the garden beyond”

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Looking in from the patio you can see the lovely doors and the cedar ceiling David installed over the patio.

David recently created a beautiful clear cedar tongue and groove ceiling for the covered patio. He also screened in the patio, which in no way inhibits the view of the garden, but did enable a delicious, yellow-jacket free, fresh air lunch the day I was there.

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The garden structure from the screened patio

Lenda and David are modest about the beautiful home they have remodeled and the amazing garden they have built from scratch, though they confess it was, “an awful lot of work.”

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Another view from the patio
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She was kind enough to pose for a minute

A few minutes before I left their home, David, Lenda, and I were admiring a large blooming white Hydrangea in the back yard. Only a few feet away from where we stood, a bunny was busy collecting grass in her mouth. She didn’t seem to mind us as we watched her carry the grass under a large bush where she settled down comfortably on her nest. She was just another example of the richness of David and Lenda’s garden, and she was a delightful end to a lovely afternoon!

 

 

The back yard before David and Lenda began their gardens: