So, this coming Saturday, I think Dave and I will do our one and only joint training ride before the big ride in July. We’ll probably shoot for something around 6 hours.
Author Archives: hansondad
Here we are approaching mid-May on the High Prairie, and the forecast is for snow tonight and tomorrow. It’s cold and damp outside today.
The daylilies are looking so healthy and robust now, and the Iris are showing some fat buds. The Butterfly Bush are sending up shoots hoping for the warmth of summer to start sucking them faster from the ground.
But Mother Nature seems to be thinking about one last blast of winter. They’re calling for a foot of snow at 6000′.
How strong will the daylilies and the iris be on Thursday I wonder? This is so sad, to see this forecast, and to know the fate that it holds for those plants who are betting on the promise of spring.
Mother Nature is a harsh mistress on the High Prairie…
I’m beginning to wonder a bit about bugs on this ride. I know that in the summer when I drive across Kansas, my windshield is plastered with the guts of armies of bugs. From really small to big like grasshoppers and June Bugs, the prairie has some tiny little flying critters.
What will this be like on the bike? I thought of this while riding beside a creek yesterday, and having to go through swarms of little gnat-like bugs.
I’m fine with everything except the breathing – if I am riding with my mouth open to be taking in any volume of air, will I be able to avoid sucking the little hellions into my lungs?
Anybody have any ideas?
Well, after last Sunday, yesterday was a walk in the park. Did the loop around town, which is now only 66 miles with some route changes dictated by construction. The weather was beautiful, with light breezes (5 – 10 mph) that varied from the NW to the NE. I would say that generally, I had the breeze in my face for 75% of the ride in one way or another, but doesn’t it generally feel like that?
Last Sunday I got pounded with snow riding down from the Palmer Divide. Like an idiot, I had on only shorts, but did have the presence of mind to be wearing a winter jersey and windbreaker.
But yesterday was nice – really nice. New best pace for the year on this route – 15.2 mph average. I’m going from memory on past years, but I think that 4 years ago when I was in really good shape, I was able to average 17 mph on this loop on a good day. Can I get there this year?
I really need to focus more on keeping the water flowing into me – ended up really dehydrated yesterday afternoon when I was back home.
Record for this year so far on the commute to work. Last year top time was 17.something – I’ll keep trying to notch it up this year – see if I can have a 19mph ride before the summer is over. Of course, a lot of it has to do with timing of the lights.
I’m feeling pretty good about the new saddle. Probably three hundred miles on it or so now, including a couple of long rides.
Clearly, the butt is building new tough spots to correspond to this new saddle, and that’s never fun. But comfort-wise and pressure-wise, I think that this saddle is doing very well.
I like it.
The first long ride I used shorts with a really great insert, and used chamois cream to be safe. All was good. This weekend I did a long ride using shorts with a minimal chamois that had been conditioned a week ago. Clear difference, and the sore spots are clearly more evident with the more minimalist chamois, but I’m confident that this will pass as the spots toughen up. This morning I rode to work 25 miles on a cold morning with no conditioner on the minimal chamois, and surely felt the spots from yesterday, but again, these spots are going to toughen up.
My opinion of the saddle is getting better.
UPDATE: October/2010: After riding the saddle all summer, including 700 miles across Colorado and Kansas in July, I have a mixed opinion. For rides around town, I really do like the saddle. I’ve become accustomed to it, and it seems that I “fit” it well. However, I just don’t think this saddle is well-suited to long-distance riding. I think the saddle-sores I developed on the 700 mile trip were partially due to the saddle. I’d recommend this saddle to an around-town rider, but not to a long-distance rider.
OK, I’m now far enough into the training year to start wondering if I can somehow get to a fitness level that will be somewhat close to Dave’s level. Dave is doing lots of running this spring, and I think that he has races in early May and sometime in June. We talked about doing some training rides together in May – we’ll see if that happens and how well I can do with him. The one thing that could work against Dave is that in doing all the training for the run, he has really had zero time for bike training. So I might have the advantage of bike-specific training, but always seem to have the disadvantage of an overall fitness level that is never close to Dave’s.
Fitness is such an unforgiving judge. Each year I get older, it takes longer to achieve fitness and it leaves sooner. And there are no shortcuts. It has to be built layer by layer, workout by workout, week by week.
It will be interesting to see how the difference in our fitness routine plays out when it comes time for the ride in July. I continue to feel confident that the ride will be fun, and that I will be able to maintain high mileage while having fun.
Next weekend should be some early indicator as to whether Dave will spend much time waiting for me on the ride…
For the last few days as we have had nice weather, I’ve been thinking about how nice it is for the plants to get a real spring this year – one where they aren’t demolished by a late April or early May snow that makes them burn lots of energy starting over. How nice it is to see healthy plants exploding from the ground in April.
Then, woke up to snow this morning. Not a lot yet, but you never know. If it doesn’t pile up too much, and the temp doesn’t drop too far into the 20′s, most of them should be OK.
It makes me appreciate the resiliency of the plants that survive here, and their ability to face each new spring with fervor, with no idea what will happen. They just keep moving forward, growing, blooming, expanding.
And then my thoughts fall back to the new saddle that I put on my bike last weekend. The old saddle worked OK, though I knew that it wasn’t the greatest design around for keeping pressure off of critical nerve areas and certainly lacked comfort after many hours in it. But I never thought about it – just kept riding it because it’s what I know.
Spent a week in CA, and then a week fishing in Kansas, and am now back in the training routine. Felt pretty strong on the commute yesterday – held 12 mph up the CC hill.
Dave got his bike out last weekend for the first ride. I really have to work hard to try and stay in the same fitness ballpark with him. He is only a few years younger, but all of his running keeps him pretty strong year-round, and he and Karen are doing lots of running this year.
If the weather is good this weekend, I’ll do my first climbing of the season. If it isn’t, I’ll just stick to the flat loops – maybe go south and do some Black Forest riding for a change…
The loop again yesterday.
70 miles is starting to feel pretty normal now. I pressed hard a couple times in early sprint efforts, then was up against threshold for the last couple of hours. Felt really fine at the end.
Very little knee pain this time, but that odd little cramping thing on the outside of my right foot was happening again. Gotta figure that one out.
So, I understand that the Milan – San Remo is just shy of 200 miles, and that the winner did it in a little over 6 hours. OK, that gives me something to keep in mind as we attempt our double-c on the first day of our DANROPE ride this year…
Looped around Denver yesterday.
Once again, made me realize how lucky I am to live in a community that provides the sort of bike access that Denver does. Even though we got a couple of feet of snow last week in a couple different storms, the bike path was pretty busy. Amazing how well used that recreation infrastructure is.
Since the wind was supposed to turn around to the north, I didn’t want to take the ride down toward the Springs and have to fight a north wind coming home. But as it turned out, it didn’t turn until very late, so I could have done that ride. I had wanted to shy away from the bike path, because I expected there to be snow and ice at the edge of a lot of the underpasses like last week. But it was a bonus that there were very few spots with snow and ice.
Lunch at Confluence Park was just incredible really. Sunny and warm, lots of people watching, it was all I could do to get back on the bike and ride the last 40 miles home.
I’ve now done 2 rides on the new 7900 stuff. I have to say that the gearing with the compact and the 11-28 seems about ideal for me. I won’t know until I start climbing about the climbing gears, but I’ve got to believe that I’ll be able to hold that 28 tooth bailout gear in my pocket for that little extra sense of security on the long and steep ones – probably rarely use it but enjoy it just for the sense of security that it gives me. Funny how that works – when you’ve got that bailout gear in the back of your mind, it seems to help you exert even more and keep the effort and pace up even higher – knowing that if you really blew up, you could drop down into that tiny little thing and recover.
Last week I got 2 days of commuting in. That’s about 45 miles RT on each of those days. While that’s an OK day total, it’s not breaking the hind-end into many hours on the bike. I consider 4 hours sort of a milestone to get across to call it a long ride – one that is callousing up the sit-bones. I’m hoping to keep up something like that pace of commuting for the next many months – twice a week as an average.
But the real work of long base miles has to happen on the weekends, and this weekend I got my first longer ride in. Just shy of 70 miles takes me on a loop around Denver, from Parker to Chatfield, then downtown, and back along Cherry Creek to Parker. My best time for that loop is a little under 3.5 hours – averaging a little over 20 mph. That’s in a state of good fitness for me.
Saturday, for this ride, I needed to wait until about 10 to start, to let the temp get up to 40. That way, I can do the ride with a ls jersey and a windbreaker. Unfortunately, this meant that my timing of the loop, and the timing of the wind shifts during the day, would have me facing the wind for most of the ride. And in fact, this is exactly what happened.
That’s OK though – I enjoyed the extra workout. And the big bonus for me was meeting my daughter downtown and having a nice lunch with her. It was a beautiful day. Total elapsed time was a little over 6 hours. Average speed 13.6 MPH. The new computer is nice, as it let me see that the total climbing for this ride is just under 2000′. I have always assumed that it was half that, since I start at 6000′, then fall to about 5000′, then climb back up. Just goes to show that the little ups and downs of a ride that feels pretty flat can add up more than you think.
Now, the forecast for this week sounds pretty iffy – I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Still working on coming up with a name for the big ride this summer.
Dave And Neil’s Epic Ride (DANER?)
February, cold and snowy. Again.
Usually in February we have a few days where the weather gets very spring-like, but it looks like we’ll get through this one without that little gift.
Not a big deal really, but it’s funny how missing that little teaser in February makes us all feel so tired of the snow and the winter. Worse, March and April are the snowy months, so it could get lots worse before it gets better.
Of course, I selfishly want the warm dry weather for training, as the snow and cold make it hard to spend much time on the bicycle. But its more than that really.
Like a dance, where you move close to intimate contact, but are held at bay, providing the jolt of excitement at feeling a tease of what might come later, but not quite touching it. In the same way, that little February tease always brings me quite close to the wonderful feelings of Spring that are just around the corner, but I can’t quite touch…
Fingers crossed for just a couple days…
I only got to commute once this week – today. The snow from last weekend and the remaining cold temps made 2-wheeled travel unlikely for me.
I have set the dates for this summer’s epic rides, and now need to stay on the treadmill to get myself to the right level of fitness. I remain confident – I think that I can take a couple of weather setbacks like this in February – will probably even end up with one or two in March.
For the rides:
- We will for sure be leaving the weekend of the Triple Bypass, headed east. We have 3 alternate routes established from Denver to either Kansas City or Springfield (MO). Rides will be something between 600 and 700 miles, and we have a week to get them done. We are going to try and target a double century in there someplace if the weather cooperates.
- Two weeks later, we will do a ride in the mountains – exact route TBD but we have 2 or 3 we are considering. They are all over 150 miles with significant climbing.
I’m really excited about this – gives me a target to train for.
Tuesday morning did the first commute of the year. Tried a new route that utilized some roads, and that cut the distance down to about 21 miles.
Funny to me how that all came down. It struck me as I passed the bus station at 9 mile that I could cut through the bus station, cross Parker road at Peoria, and just head up Peoria and wiggle through side streets over to work. While I wasn’t sure exactly how I would get through, I was positive that I would be able to find a route.
So I left the quiet trail, and headed up the street, assuming that it would save me some time, albeit at the cost of dodging a little traffic.
Well, the traffic wasn’t all that bad, as it was a little past rush hour. I did follow a bike path for half a mile or so, and had to walk across some icy spots. As I was doing that, I was happy I had gone that way, not sure if my normal route that utilized so much bike path might be pretty icy in spots.
My toes got pretty cold, but the rest of me stayed nice and toasty. Temp was about 25 – maybe a little lower in spots.
So here’s the interesting part: Thinking about the route at work, I felt I had cheated myself just a bit. Dealing with traffic and exhaust just felt like too high a price to pay for the shorter route. Plus, while I am OK with the shorter route right now, as the season progresses, it is really miles in the saddle that I need anyway. It became really clear that while I had found an acceptable route, I would probably want to use it only in emergency.
Of course, a meeting ran long in the afternoon, and I got away later than I wanted, I was worried that I would be overtaken by the dark before I got home, so I took the same route back home. It was rush hour by then, and the traffic was a pain. And in fact, I was still overtaken by dark, so I am really glad that I took the shorter route to reduce the amount of time in the dark.
Interesting observation: Drivers seem to be more tolerant and cordial to bicycles when it is really cold – they must feel sorry for us?
Note to self: Get better lights!
Such a disappointing bunch of news this weekend. The Boulder Gran Fondo that we were going to ride in April has cancelled, as has the big one in Steamboat Springs for August.
So, looks like my big rides this year need to be unsupported deals. The “supported” aspect of a ride is really not the most appealing for me – it is the fact that I have shelled out money and have a committment to do a particular ride on a particular date, which forces me into some level of fitness discipline in order to avoid pain and embarrassment.
So, I will just need to find the self-discipline to do the training for some unsupported rides.
I do have the Iron Horse Classic at the end of May, and assuring fitness for that will help for sure. However, as I started looking at potential routes this weekend, it became clear to me that what I really want to do this year is tackle something bigger than the Triple Bypass – I really want to do a bigger ride.
So, I’ve been looking at a few routes. I either want to target a double-century thus summer, or else a mountain ride with significant climbing that is over 150 miles. Certainly possible to get both done this summer. To get there, I know that I need to be doing my first century rides in April, which is earlier than I have done them in the past. I will need to be doing the 110 miles Conifer/Morrison loop in May, and will need to expand that and find a loop with even more climbing and higher miles to be doing in July.
Rode the Canterbury loop on Saturday – that’s twice in January. Short loop but at least it’s some saddle time.
I got lucky yesterday – the temp was 50, so I went for a little ride.
My short loop through Canterbury.
The wind was strong, but I stayed nice and warm thanks to the right layers and new gloves.
I felt much better than I expected on the climbing that is part of that loop. I think that I am starting this year off with reasonable shape in January. If I can only hold on to this and build from it.
I have been talking to some folks about putting together an alternative ride to the Triple this year, since that was such a mess. I’m thinking that if 20 or 30 of us got together the weekend before or after, we could pay somebody to do food support, and have a great time at it. Folks kick in $20 or $30 apiece, and have watermelon and other good food waiting at important places. Sagging would be possible too if we paid someone to drive a truck with tools for minor repairs if needed.
Would need to stay somewhat together, but I think that if we had an A group and a B group, we could make it work.
Would love to find folks interested.
June – the summer transition month.
Our seasons this year seem to have been delayed by a couple of weeks, though maybe this is just my perception based on a winter that seemed colder and longer than usual. I am certain that this perception has nothing whatsoever to do with another years worth of sand having passed through the hourglass of my life’s clock…
Depending on how warm June turns out to be, it is possible that it could still be an excellent month for planting perennials. Any spaces that need some extra color and punch during the summer would appreciate the planting of annuals as soon as possible in the month, and the space will reward you with color for the rest of the summer.
Pruning tasks in June
- Lilacs should be pruned as soon as they finish blooming. They are a robust plant that often likes to be pruned, and can be pruned to a variety of forms. If you have a mature one in the right spot, try pruning it more like a tree, keeping all of the suckers and lower branches pruned back, leaving a few arching trunks to grow tall. This only works well on the taller varieties, like the common lilac and Canadian lilacs.
- Other flowering shrubs – generally, flowering shrubs should be pruned back as soon as they are done flowering in the spring.
- Trees for shape and health
Perennials to divide in June
- When the iris are done blooming, they can be dug and divided. Dig the rhizome clumps, and carefully pull them apart into individual plants. Use something like grass trimmers to cut the tops back into a fan shape or v shape about 4” to 6” tall. Plant the individual plants so that the top of the rhizome is right at the surface of the ground.
- Daylilies can be divided anytime, but right after blooming is an excellent time that allows you to enjoy this year’s bloom.
Other June tasks
- Keep pond pH down to a healthy range.
- Early June is still not too late to plant summer lilies (like Asiatic), though if they are planted as bulbs, they will likely not flower until next year.
- Remove spent flowers from all plants, and remove spent stalks from plants like iris and daylily.
- Fertilize for summer growth.
As I moved quietly through the moonless darkness, I could hear the tiny creaks and movements within to woods on my right, and I could feel the arms of the open prairie on my left. In the darkness, when you have surrendered to the world that you are moving through, it is as-though you can feel that world reaching out and exploring your soul – reaching inside of you to find what is there – exposing you and testing you. When it first happens, it is unnerving, but with each moment in surrender, it seems that both you and the little piece of world that you have surrendered to fall deeper and deeper into harmony and comfort.
I reached the tree that held my stand in its branches. It is not possible to be very quiet climbing into a tree, so this was the point in my morning trek where I could imagine any animals in the area looking my way, wondering what it was that was climbing into the tree in the darkness. Pulling my bow and pack up into the tree once I was in my stand, I settled into the familiar and comfortable position of resting, my bow across my lap with an arrow nocked. I occasionally used the antlers at my feet to rattle a bit, or sometimes would let a soft grunt float into the silence, but for the most part, I let myself find quiet.
And I listened.
I listened to my heart, as it slowed further and further. I could hear the sound of the blood pulsing through the arteries with each beat, becoming less loud as my pulse and blood pressure both declined. I could feel the thoughts in my mind begin to try and push their way into my immediate consciousness, and I resisted this by staying tightly tuned to listening.
My stand was in the branches of a tree that stood apart from the hedgerow beside it, close to the end where the hedgerow opened up into the prairie. At the very end of that hedgerow was a place that bucks commonly thought was prime real estate. There were many strong and fresh rubs there this year, as well as a lot of other sign indicating heavy traffic through the area. My stand was placed to watch that spot where the hedgerow opened up into the prairie and the rubs were thick. I was looking east, so the winter sun would rise in front of me and a little to the right.
I had been in the stand for long enough to have cooled down completely. I had rattled and grunted a few times, but had not heard anything that made me think that anyone was interested. Then, out of nowhere, I heard a twig snap in the woods 30 yard to my right.
The dance between Venus and the Moon first became visible to me at the horizon as the first hints of dawn began to warm the eastern sky. By that time, I had been sitting in my tree-stand for long enough to feel the cold in my toes, and the site of Venus and the Moon helped me to feel some added warmth begin to move from my soul into my body. I had begun my morning well before dawn, letting Colin out for a quick constitutional, and putting him back in the camper for the morning. After slipping into my hunting clothes outside of the camper, I picked up my bow from its special place, and began the slow and silent walk toward my stand. It was less than a mile to walk to my stand, but in the deep darkness of a night with no moon up yet, and with my desire to move silently, the walk probably took 45 minutes or so.
There is a path that I follow to that tree-stand when it is dark. It isn’t the most direct route, but it is the most quiet. The soil is sandy, and it is possible to pick out the lighter sandy path from the darker prairie grass even on the darkest of nights. As I had moved along the path – walking slowly and quietly – I enjoyed the absolute stillness that is so magical about that time of the day. The path follows an old tree-row for most of the way, and I could hear small movements within the tree row – sometimes a leaf falling through the branches, sometimes a tiny twig beneath the foot of a raccoon.
I rarely use a light in the darkness. An artificial light in the wilderness just screams to the wildlife that a human is present. If I used a light, by the time that I arrived at my hunting spot, every animal within half a mile would be notified of my exact location. In addition, the light from the flashlight would prevent my eyes from adjusting to the darkness, so that when I eventually did turn the light off, my eyes would need to take the time to adjust before they were of any use at all to me. In case of emergency, I have a light that I can use, but I don’t recall the last time that I used it when moving through the nighttime wilderness.
There is a greater reason, though, that I don’t want a light at night. It has to do with why I am even here – why I am walking across the prairie on a chilly morning, carrying a bow, walking softly and quietly. It has to do with why I take such care to control the human scent that is part of me, why I choose to spend this time with solitude on the Prairie.
Many people equate “hunting” with “killing something”. Most non-hunters do this I think, but frankly, I know hunters who do this as well. For me, it is certainly likely that the hunting process will result in meat in my freezer, but this is not why I hunt, and the “killing” is not where I find my joy.
For me, the hunting process is my surrender to my rightful place in this earthly ecos. It is about becoming part of a balance that is much older and much wiser than the technically advanced, climate controlled, risk reduced world that generally surrounds me. It is about coming into a harmony with where I have been placed in this universe, and from that place of more perfect Harmony, I can feel myself more completely within The One.
When done well, hunting finds me leaving behind all that is human reason, and finding deep within myself the wisdom that is a part of the little sphere of earth that I place myself within. It finds me accepting my place as a predator high on the food chain, and accepting as well the responsibility that comes with that place on the food chain. It finds me spending the time to learn how the other animals move in this little sphere of earth, and how many they are, and how healthy they are. It finds me choosing which animal to take, and whether to take an animal. It finds me realizing that when meat ends up in my freezer, it should end up there as a result of a gift that is exchanged between hunter and hunted, and that taking the meat without receiving the gift and blessing the exchange is a blasphemy.
Surrender – a funny word. Sometimes the path to strength and wisdom can only be found through surrender. In surrendering myself to my small place in this little sphere, and in leaving my human ego back at the doorstep of the civilization that I left behind, I am able to find my Self and my Place. And it feels good and right.
And a flashlight disturbs that goodness and that rightness.
The vastness of the prairie sky at night creates the window into The Infinite with which few people feel comfortable. The stillness required to allow that Infinite to creep into your soul is something with which even fewer people feel comfortable. While we profess to want closeness and connection with G-d, we eschew the very things that could facilitate what we say we want. It seems to me that this is a result of our modern world. I want to believe that when cultures are more comfortable with the magic in the world around them, that they feel more at ease with the Vastness and the Stillness.
This morning, I watched Venus dance with the Moon. It is a monthly dance, occurring in the early morning or early evening hours when Venus happens to be out, and the cycle of the Moon happens to put him somewhere close to Venus. It is a timeless dance – Venus and the Moon.
This morning, Venus and the Moon brushed close to one-another as they took their spin on the celestial dance-floor. I watched them as I sat in a tree-stand before dawn, and watched as the morning light washed the darkness from the night sky. For a while, they were framed perfectly in the cradle of the Cottonwoods above me – smiling at each other as they enjoyed the moment that passed between them…
The Spirit of the South Wind was feisty and strong yesterday on the Prairie. Was there some pent-up anger that she held for the Spirit of the North I wonder, as she accosted him all afternoon with a relentless fury rolling across the flat top of Kansas?
The lush green of this year’s new grass held tightly to the ancient prairie soil, as the faded red and brown remnants of last year’s grass above it was bent and assaulted all day by the fury of the south. The depth and density of the new green pushing up from below takes me by surprise each year, no matter how many springs I watch it happen. While still clothed in the rusty and earthy colored dress that she wears each winter, the prairie is beginning to accessorize herself with the rich spring wardrobe that pushes aside her beautiful winter dress each year at this time.
There were few small birds out above the prairie grass – negotiating movement to the south in the relentless tide of wind was too much work. The Harriers were out though, floating across the sea of wind with mastery, slowly picking their way low across the prairie toward the south in search of unsuspecting prey, or racing toward the north as-if riding a monster wave of wind on a surfboard, only to turn and make another meticulous path across the tops of the grass.
Like the tumbleweeds that fly across the prairie ahead of the wind, our thoughts and emotions are just manifestations of that invisible force that rules the prairie I suppose. There is a power that moves us that is beyond our ability to see. Try and stand too firmly, and the prairie wind will break us. Learn to bend with the wind, and we will survive. Learn to use the wind as the ocean of our paradise, and like the Harrier, we will prosper.
Few things in the universe can be as vast as a clear night sky flowing without end, spilling over the distant horizons of the western Kansas prairie. The depth of the universe, and your insignificance within it, become starkly clear in the endless sea of stars – stars so thick that they almost feel oppressive. Intellectually, we all know that the universe is a pretty big thing, and that our place within it is pretty small, but resting in the cool autumn prairie evening gives you a window into that universe that you just can’t find anywhere else.
At least I haven’t found anyplace else where that window opens itself. As often as I have been on the prairie and felt that window, it still takes my breath away each time that it happens. It feels as though my soul is reaching and digging for some new set of senses – something bigger than sight and sound and smell and touch – with which to connect through this vast window that opens up out there where the sky is big.
Tonight is going to be that sort of a night – a night that The Universe pours itself into my soul through the window of a vast Kansas sky. It isn’t yet dark, but I can feel the window opening around me. The still November air is unseasonably warm at around 50 degrees. Sitting in an open field, resting my back against an ancient wooden fencepost, I find myself listening again for the Voice of The Infinite spoken in the language of the prairie evening as she begins to whisper.
On my lap, my old dog Colin rests his head, sleeping soundly. It has been an afternoon spent in heaven for him, trotting across the prairie looking for birds to point and fetch. We ended up with 3 quail out of 2 coveys, and they will make both breakfast in the morning, and dinner later tonight if I feel like fixing it. His age is showing, as he sleeps deeply after the workout. But then, I suppose that my age shows just as clearly, though in ways that I am not ready to see yet.
Earlier this afternoon, when Colin and I finished our hunting, we stopped by the camper to put the birds in the cooler, and leave the shotgun behind. We walked out to this spot with a nice view of the sunset, and sat quietly as the day began that quiet transformation – watching the day recede while night approaches through evening.
There are whitetail deer now in the prairie and alfalfa around me. They have moved out of their daytime shelters, and have begun to feed. I watched a group of them standing still at the edge of the field – that place where the shelter of a group of trees meets the prairie. They watched there for a while – assuring themselves that there was not danger in the meadow beyond – then one doe stepped out into the field, took several steps, and started to feed. The rest of the group stayed in the cover of the trees and watched, to see if anything took interest in the lone doe feeding in the field. Once convinced that danger was not near, they all moved out into the field, and began to make their way across the prairie grass toward the stand of sweet alfalfa that they love so much.
Such is the way of that daily transformation of day into night. Things happen slowly, and around the edges, one step at a time. If you aren’t paying attention, you can miss those dainty steps that are occurring in that movement from the shelter of daylight into the meadow of the night. If you aren’t paying attention, you look around, and realize that it is almost dark.
One minute you see an open field, then the next it seems that the deer have appeared out of no-place. One minute it is light and comfortable, then next it is nearly dark, and you feel fearful and uneasy at the transformation that occurred while you were not paying attention.
Did I hear it right yesterday – that Bush is suggesting that we spend $750 million of taxpayer money to help the hungry in the world? I don’t have any details – just heard the headline.
This sure sounds good – makes a good soundbite – but is it possible that we really want to do this?
Let me understand the lay of the land with regard to what we do as a nation to impact food supply around the world:
- The government takes my tax money, and subsidizes farmers to not grow food, in order to try and keep food prices higher.
- The government keeps food prices higher by controlling trade with higher prices as a goal, taking yet more of my money.
- The government takes my tax money, and subsidizes the use of food crops to create ethanol. This uses the tax money I give to them to subsidize something that I don’t believe in, with the result being higher food prices that I must pay at the store.
- I haven’t even gotten into the subsidies that they pay to the big agricultural firms and the big oil firms, all combining to continue the cycle of high prices that they have created.
- I haven’t even gotten into the moral implications of our habits and practices in this country with regard to how we produce and consume food.
I could go on, but from a purely fiscally conservative perspective, it would appear that the government uses a lot of MY money that they take from me in the form of taxes, and they use this money to ASSURE that food prices remain high, and that food availability around the world remains low. Then they want to act as though this is a problem that they want to solve, and of course, their solution to the problem is to take yet more of my tax money and throw it at the problem.
This is absurdity. What takes it from absurdity to the realm of moral crime is that they will most likely assure that most of this tax money of yours and mine that they say that they want to use to solve this problem will most likely go right into the pockets of the big agricultural firms to assure that the problem continues, rather than into programs and policies that might actually encourage independence on the part of poor regions of the world.
Can someone find a more clear example of moral bankruptcy?
Sitting in front of my office window is an old Jade plant. He waits patiently for the long winter to end, so that I will put him out in the sun for the summer. He has waited patiently since October, when he had to come it.
On the other side of the Jade plant, through the glass of the big window, on a Colorado May Day, a sea of giant sopping snowflakes works feverishly to try to blanket the high prairie with a wet spring snow.
The odds are low, but it could happen. Every few years the Winter Warlocks of the Mountains storm down to meet the Winter Witches of the High Prairie, and they leave behind a devastating landscape of snowy white destruction in May. But the ground is quite warm following several days of bright and warm high prairie spring days, and the sunlight tries heroically to break through the clouds now and then, so my money is down on the Fair Lady of Springtime to be victorious on this May Day.
Today, it is easy to visualize and feel the “spirits” of the seasons that so many people have named throughout time. The never-ceasing rhythm and undulation of the spirits as they move across a land – sharing the land as their “playground”. The cruel and relentless spirit of Winter fighting one last time to reclaim a land that has begun to explode in the beauty that lives among the swishing skirts of a fair and beautiful spirit of Spring.
Upon the landscape of this walk through life I feel the spirits of the seasons as they wrestle with one-another along my path. A springtime of joy that works hard to wrestle the path from the icy grip of a winter of depression perhaps, or a warm summer of contentment that is not ready to yield to an autumn of recollection.
My Jade plant waits patiently. He knows that his time in the sun will come again – I am certain that he feels that coming time in the deepest core of his branches. The cycle never fails – the trick is to stay in the rhythm and the harmony of the cycle that never ends.
I design and build gardens for people. It is a dream job in many ways – the ability to use as your palate beautiful plants that will evolve and grow each year.
As a result of this vocation, people often want to talk about plants, and get ideas on which plants are the “best”. Of course, as with most things, “it depends”, right?
Each plant brings its own particular beauty, expressed in many different ways. Some plants compliment one another, some will always clash. Each has its own “hardiness” for cold, or heat, or sunlight, or shade, or soil, or moisture. And of course, they each have their own “ugliness” too.
Right now I am looking out my office window at the purple Delosperma that lies drooping over my rock walls. It looks brown and dead – starkly unattractive really as the Colorado springtime is exploding in the garden around it. However, I know that by the time that June gets here, those ugly masses of drooping brown will have transformed once again into beautiful bright drapes of purple and green dressing-up the granite walls.
So, I accept this little period of ugly, knowing the beauty that is to come once again.
Our relationships with others are like this too I think. Perfection is pretty hard to find in anything – particularly in people it seems. I know that the gap between me and anything approaching perfection is too great a distance to see on the clearest of days. So, the people who are my friends, family, lovers, or whatever, must have decided that even though I have my seasons of ugly, the beauty and utility that I offer makes the ugly season worth overlooking. No accounting for that…
What is it that makes this possible – this ability to overlook the ugly season that a person displays in order to see the beauty when that season is upon us? I have to say that when I am gardening, there is truly some level of connection that I have with the plants that I put into the ground. I know that plant, and I know its many phases, and I know what it is finicky about, and I know that if I treat it right, and place it right, and assure proper care, that it will – once again – wash the garden with the beauty that I know so well.
My friends are like that too I think. It is that connection that you develop with a person that allows you to rest assured that you understand the balance of beauty and ugly and utility in this person well enough to deal with them, and to help them grow as they are meant to grow. The tighter and closer the connection is, the more in harmony we become with each other, and the thing that once seemed only ugly, can now become balance and harmony.
Let the planting begin!
May is the perfect time for planting perennials in Colorado. This is the time of year that you can plant very small stock, and provided that you care for them well, they will generally be robust and mature by the end of their first summer. Be sure that the new plants are watered daily for the first month, and when we get into the hot days of summer, don’t let the new plants get too dry this first year.
This is also an excellent time to divide perennials that are getting a bit crowded, or if you are just looking to propagate some new plants. Daylilies are very easy to divide, and now is an excellent time to do so – the earlier in May the better. Dig the clump that you want to divide, and set the clump in a pail of water for a few minutes. The reach down into the pail, and carefully tease the plants apart from each other. Get these plants into the ground and watered ASAP, and be sure to keep them from drying out for the first couple of weeks. The same method can be used to tease apart clumps of many grasses, but do this only in the evening or on cool days, as those first few hours and days after dividing are critical for the survival of many grasses.
There are many perennials that will benefit from occasional division of clumps, and May is an excellent time for most of them. However, there are exceptions. Don’t divide Iris yet – let them bloom first and then divide them in June when they are done. Same with Peonies – they should be divided either after they bloom, or at the end of summer when they are going dormant – I seem to have the best luck dividing after they bloom and giving them lots of TLC that first summer.
May is a good time to prune many shrubs as well. Once the Forsythia are done blooming, prune them right away. They can be pruned as hard as you want to if you do so right away when they are done blooming, and you will get flowers again next year, as the flowers come on the previous year’s growth. Lilac should also be pruned as soon as they are done blooming, though in most areas around here that isn’t until June.
As soon as the trees start to put their green on the branches, it is good to start pruning for shape. Spring is when the root spends most of it’s energy for new growth, so it makes sense to get that pruning done before the energy is wasted on growth that you don’t really want anyway.
If you have a pond and fish, May is a critical time to make sure that the water is in good shape, and that you get the pH and algae under control right away. Barley is a good but slow assistance to the high pH problem that we will generally see, but there are other good products available that work much faster. There are also good products to chemically control algae, though once your pH is healthy, the algae will become much less of a problem.
Happy planting and dividing!
Where is the line between “giving” and “service”?
On one level, they are the same. We “give” our service to others. But then, when I am paid to do a job, then I am providing service as well. But is it still “giving”, or is it just “providing”?
The difference is in what comes back it seems to me. Whenever I “give” something with some hope or expectation of something in return, then it is no longer giving, is it? Now it is just bartering or trading for services.
And what is in our nature I wonder? Are we put together to be able to truly give?
Evidence would suggest that we are not put together this way – that we are generally inclined to be looking for every opportunity to get more in return than we have to give. Yet, my experience is that the greatest grace that a person can experience comes as part of a true and selfless giving process.
Nothing can fill a heart like the simple and pure harmony that rings from within the soul when pure service is given as a gift to another person.
I know this to be true, and I suspect that most people know this to be true, yet we do it so rarely. This doesn’t make sense, and makes me wonder about the way we are put together. Why do we continue to pursue the bartering and the trading, when they render so little to our soul, yet we rarely allow ourselves the luxury of the things that render so much to our soul?
Both Lent and Passover have ended. What seeped into my soul this year as these wonderful seasons passed beside me?
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, fasting and wrestling – perhaps wandering. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, wandering and seeking G-d. Cultures and religions everywhere have strong traditions of fasting and “wilderness time” as part of the transformation process.
It would seem this “wilderness time” is a critical element in any transformation – certainly in transformations that we hope will take us closer to Eden.
But time in the desert is not easy. Are we willing to deny ourselves the immediate needs that our desires demand in order to allow the path through the wilderness to unfold?
When we are in the desert, it is easy to look for ways to surround ourselves with things that feel like the moisture that we seek, even though the place that we are ending up may – in fact – be the swamp. The swamp might feel like a good place at first, but we will rot there if it is only a hiding place from the desert that we are meant to cross.
When the wilderness and the desert are presented to us on our path, then shouldn’t we embrace that phase of our journey rather than hiding from it? What we might need is a little time in the desert by ourselves, to embrace the gifts of the desert and learn what the desert has to speak to us. If we hide from the desert in the swamp, then when the rain does come, we can’t discern the miracle of rain from the swamp that we have immersed ourselves in.
It is only through our time in the desert that we can gain the gift that lets us see the miracle of the rain when it comes. Miracles are happening around us all the time, but few can see them. It may be that time in the desert is tightly linked to the ability to see the miracles that we are surrounded with.