Excerpts

Cover_051114BASKETS FOR BUTTERFLIES

MAY 27 / Day of Death ______________________________

This is the hottest day we’ve had so far; all of the smaller plants have died!

Even the grape in the shade has dropped the last of its leaves. It seemed all right for a while, and I hoped it might survive. I put my finger in the soil beneath the mulch. The amount of moisture is just right.

It doesn’t matter whether the victims are in the shade or the sun. Apparently, the air and soil temperatures have both exceeded what the plants can withstand because all of them, except the trees, have withered and died.

It’s one massive death scene, everywhere.

As I look over the battlefield where so many plants have given up their struggle, I’m overwhelmed. The burlap shading one of the grapes has been displaced by last night’s monsoon wind. Even though the twig is hopeless, I replace the burlap and feel as if I’m putting a shroud over the deceased.

“I’m sorry,” I tell them.

The roses, too, are gone. So are all of the berries. No more effort, no more toil, not for the plants; not for me either, as I’ve been fighting mentally and physically to keep them alive. There’s a strange silence and peace about giving up.

I plop down in the full sun to weep, long and deep. Solar rays, soaking into my hat, cook the woven straw and heat my head beneath. Open hands cover my face, my shoulders heave, and big tears stream down my checks. Dry sand instantly absorbs the wet pain.

I want to give up!

There’s no one to teach me. My parents live in the city and don’t know how to help me with garden questions. My grandparents have passed on.

I read every book I can find, but many of them are about growing plants in cooler climates. The authors of these books often live in the eastern parts of the country and can’t imagine how hot the soil gets here.

I’m not alone with these feelings. Old knowledge all over the world is being lost. Gardening information that has been handed down from generation to generation is no longer deemed necessary in a society with abundant mass-produced food and modern grocery stores. Accompanying lore, stories, and traditions are often undervalued by a younger generation lured by technology, computers, and video games.

The local Native Americans, too, are not immune to this information loss. Pressures to fit into the world beyond their traditional culture can conflict with older ways of life. Integrating modern technology and working paid jobs in the city, for example, can distract attention from the knowledge, culture, and songs passed down from the ancestors. Consequently, not only are the precious seeds endangered but also the body of knowledge about how to plant, nurture, and harvest them.

As I get older, it becomes more important to make a positive difference in the world. I want to help save endangered seeds and the wisdom and stories surrounding them, but I’m so bad at gardening. My plants shrivel and die; worst of all, I lost rare onion bulbs that are in danger of extinction.

I feel helpless…and guilty.

“I’m going to Hell for killing so many things!” I put my face in my hands, surrendering to more weeping. The wide brim of my hat jerks to and fro with each wave of tears.

I’m cursed, and the killing needs to stop!

Sweat trickles down the back of my neck. I shouldn’t be doing this in the sun because I can overheat and dehydrate.

“Please, I ‘wish’…someone would help me, or stop me, before the Devil comes to take me to Hell for all the precious plants I’ve killed!”

So here I sit, cross-legged in the scorching hot sand beneath the searing sun, shoulders heaving, and spirit spent.

* * *

Tonight, I have a horrible nightmare! The Devil chases me through hot barren sand dunes.

Where can I hide?

I run behind a dune, but my footprints stay in the sand, giving my position away. The evil fiend is always right behind me.

“I didn’t ‘mean’ to kill so many plants!”

A deep voice growls, “Throughout history, many evils were committed by well-intending people. That did not save them from the fire.”

I wake up screaming!

MAY 28 / The Storm ______________________________

A huge dust storm gathers in the south-eastern sky this evening as it often does during the monsoon. Warm winds pick up loose sand from the unprotected desert and nearby agricultural fields disturbed by the plow.

At first, a huge fluffy pillow rolls and tumbles toward our little homestead. The mass feeds greedily on exposed dirt along the path and soon evolves into a powerful monster. An ominous orange glow fills the entire sky and back lights the approaching creature, reminding me of pictures of nuclear mushroom clouds and of Doomsday!

I rush indoors just as the wind-blown sand arrives. The fierce wind howls shrilly like a banshee foretelling of death to come.

Is it blowing away the shriveled remains of the plants?

Then I realize the creature’s wail is not a prophesy of things to come but a cry of rage for death already realized. I watch the spectacle from the window and feel ashamed. The wind spits small rocks against the glass to punctuate my bitter self-remorse.

In the distance, trees bend almost to the ground. Dry tumbleweeds race across the yard until they encounter the chain-link fence where they become momentarily stuck. I take a deep breath to cleanse my guilt-ridden thoughts and then join Jimmy, who is sitting on the couch.

A violent thunderstorm follows the dust. Sporadic flashes of lightening illuminate black clouds hanging low from their heavy burden. The drops fall lightly, wetting the dust and making mud. Then the rain increases to a downpour and pounds against the windows in wind-blown gusts. Thunder, low and distant at first, becomes loud and close, reverberating off of the surrounding mountains.

The window seems to explode with blinding light! Thunder is immediate and earsplitting. Jimmy and I exchange panicked glances.

“That wasn’t just close, it must have hit in our yard!” I cry.

He doesn’t have a chance to answer. All of the lights go out in the house just as lightning flashes outside, illuminating the large living-room window from behind. A deafening thunderclap sends my hands up to my ears.

My husband’s face is obscured by darkness. I sit in silence, expecting more thunder, but there’s only a quiet steady rain.

A tale of magic * * * * * * * * * * Wish on the Wind

Flashes of lightening illuminate the heavy cloud cover as the storm intensifies. Magical forces gather energy in the sky. The clouds, wind, and lightening conjure an ancient secret recipe with a little of this, a bit of that.

Start with a ‘wish on the wind.’ Add a ‘plea for help.’ Power it with electrical bursts from a dark and mystical cloud. Mix them together with the purest of rain.

As the flashes build in frequency and power, the potion boils over. One brilliant, jagged, bolt of energy surges to the ground. There the force connects with a magical mesquite tree grown by the hand of the wisher.

For an intense moment, time stands still while energy transfers from the brilliant white light to the tree. Stark silence follows as grey smoke tenderly embraces the flare of the root and then creeps outward and away.

Beneath the branches, a very old spirit arises. Its life-force drawn from the tree, the lightning, the wisher, and the cosmic forces that brought them all together.

The rock gnome, who has been sleeping beneath the tree for so many years, begins to stir. It happens slowly at first. A toe wiggles in a shoe. A finger twitches.

“Ah-chew!” A small body shudders with the over-sized sneeze.

“Ah, that better!” he says, wiping his big nose with the back of his hand. “Gnome need sneeze long time!”

* * * * * * * * * *

MAY 29 / The Day After ______________________________

As soon as the sun rises, my husband and I rush outside to search for damage caused by last night’s horrendous storm.

“Jimmy, there were two lightning strikes. Where did they hit?”

“That’s what we’re looking for. Let’s broaden the search. You take one side of the yard, and I’ll take the other.”

We walk zigzag patterns across the acreage, searching for damage.

The ground is moist from rain but not soggy. The porous sand quickly absorbs water, leaving only a dark color to suggest its recent presence.

Even the two creek beds that cross our property are now devoid of standing water. These runoff points are dangerous in Arizona. When it rains, water often comes in torrents, as it did last night. Normally dry streams become channels for rushing floods.

My mind’s eye visualizes the raging water with great clarity even though the night was already dark by the time the storm arrived. The entire acreage was under water, like an ocean. The washes would have been difficult to detect because they were also submerged. The current was channeled northwest, where the flow emptied into the normally dry Gila River.

In the past, the two creek beds on our property have contained rushing water up to my knees. Still, these are just tiny washes. Big gulches all over Arizona pose threats to anyone caught in them when water suddenly appears as a result of rainfall either locally or farther upstream.

I step in the middle of the creek bed. The ground is firm. Whatever runoff had been here earlier is either downstream or soaked into the sand.

Another step leaves a footprint in the barely damp sand behind me. This makes me think about the difficulties of trying to grow a garden in soil that holds no moisture.

“Over here, Donna!”

The trunk of a palo verde is split in half. One side of the tree lies on the ground, separated from the plant entirely. The other half, still attached to what remains of the trunk, leans over on top of the perimeter fence.

“Where did the other lightning bolt hit?” I ask.

He shrugs his shoulders.

MAY 30 / The Dust Devil ______________________________

While feeding the animals, I’m distracted by a gentle whisper. Nearby, bits of dust are softly whisked upwards and then swept into a circle. A dust devil is in the birth stage, starting from nothing and gathering strength. This event is so close that I hear sand particles scrape against each other as they coil around and collide. Harmless whirlwinds, such as this, are common in Arizona in the summer, but nature always amazes me.

Suddenly, the newborn spectacle moves this direction. Strong air currents whoosh around and envelop my body. Hands instinctively cover my face, and sensitive eyes shut tight to keep out foreign material. Sharp grains sting as they hit exposed flesh. The wind presses clothing tightly against my skin, causing the extra fabric pieces to snap and pop like a flag. The rude bully threatens to push me over as he shoves me in one direction and then another. My wide-brimmed garden hat is snatched off my head.

This personal intimidation only lasts for a few seconds, but it seems much longer. When I open my eyes, the tiny twister has moved toward the garden. My hat, though, is still high in the air, floating like a kite hung on a string. Oddly, the item is not spinning around in a wide circle but is hanging suspended in one place. Since there’s no scarf or pin to throw it off balance, the straw crown spins on its own axis like a toy top. The dust devil is a mischievous child looking for a plaything and so runs off with my sunbonnet.

The wind teases, “Look at me! See what I can do!”

I watch helpless as the game continues, and the twirling toy climbs higher and then drifts toward the garden…or maybe the neighbor’s fence.

Laughter fills the air. “Shall I drop it in the garden or perhaps somewhere else?”

If my garden hat goes over the fence, I’ll have to buy a new one.

Actually, I’d like a new hat.

Nevertheless, both hands go to my hips in a stern attempt to reprimand the young menace.

“Bring that back!”

Then the naughty wind grows tired of playing and taunting me; it simply loses momentum and is gone. The stolen property is gently deposited in the garden.

No new hat today. 

Tale of magic * * * * * * * * * * An Epiphany

The dust devil drops my wide-brimmed hat atop a group of canal daisies.

After brushing sand off my clothes and shaking my head to remove dust from my hair, I head into the garden to reclaim my property.

As my fingertips reach for the straw brim, an unexpected rustling makes me to jump back.

Is it a snake?

This is diamondback country, and the dangerous vipers sometimes hide in the garden. I watch from a safe distance as the hat begins to move as if alive. It sways and dips gracefully like a ballet dancer’s skirt, first to the right and then the left.

Are wind currents causing this?

Then the performer starts to wiggle and jiggle. Finally, the front brim rises.

Is something underneath?

Hands go to my knees for support as I bend over to peer under the edge. Eyes strain to focus in the dark shaded region beneath the crown.

My breath, almost nonexistent, suddenly draws in as a loud gasp.

I scream! It’s a long, high-pitched, frightened, little-girl sort of shriek.

“Stop! Please stop!” Pudgy fingers clasp tightly over his huge blocky ears.

My breath is short and shallow as I struggle to make sense of what’s happening. Sometimes a person encounters a situation too incredible to believe. The witness must abandon everything previously believed to be true, altering the basic structure of reality, like seeing a UFO.

This is called an ‘epiphany.’ My epiphany is a little man with a big bulbous nose and a smooth, mischievous, baby face.

“Sit. No fall down!” he begs.

Dizzy, I lower myself to the ground sitting cross-legged and looking straight into the strange puzzling eyes of who-knows-what.

“Who are you? What do you want?” I ask.

“Many names. Heard wish. Saw light. Want help you.”

“Help with what?”

He leans forward and whispers, “Darkness comes!”

I wake up on the living room couch not sure how I got here.

* * * * * * * * * *

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: