Midsummer Stars

by Nan DeGrove

Summer Solstice June 20th
New moon in Cancer June 23rd.
Capricorn Full Moon July 8th, 10:07 P. M. MDT

With the the new moon we pass through the sacred portal of the solstice into summer, which carries us to the dog days of July, with a potent full moon on the 8th. Eclipses of the moon and Sun are coming in August, making this is a time of swiftly moving tides and undercurrents. Cancer, the moon’s sign, was in ancient times considered a portal through which souls passed as they entered and departed life. Thresholds, gates and doorways are liminal zones of transition that express this theme. In Egyptian mythology Cancer was symbolized by the scarab beetle, symbol of immortality. Be aware of thresholds this month—some are invisible. Place flowers and tokens (horseshoes, seashells, wreaths) at your door to invite good fortune.

Home, family and emotional states are emphasized. There may be a need to retreat from the streams of information that bombard us—to be discerning about what we take in, as well as what we send out. Subtle vibrations affect us more in this sensitive time, like pebbles thrown into a pool. The overwhelm of national and world events can flood our minds, leading to confusion and burnout. This is a time to cultivate positive means of emotional refreshment—love, friendship, solitude, nature, art.

Full Moon

The full moon in Capricorn on July eighth is like a seed that breaks the
ground, grows quickly and spreads in many directions. The moon is conjunct Pluto and opposite the Sun and Mars in Cancer. In this combination there is power, aggression, and an intensity that can blow things out of proportion, but also provides motivation for overcoming obstacles. This moon comes just after the Fourth of July holiday, and signifies a critical time in relation to national and global politics. This full moon leads into and foreshadows the August lunar and solar eclipses. Eclipses encompass a period weeks before and after the actual phenomena—a period in which change accelerates, some things come to an end ,and surprising new possibilities arise.

The World

In the Tarot there is a card called The World. In the Waite-Smith deck it shows a goddess figure dancing within a wreath of laurel leaves. with the symbols for Taurus, Scorpio, Leo, and Aquarius in each corner. These signs represent different forms of power—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual This is the last of the 21 major Arcana, the cards that portray archetypes or universal experiences, in a sequence that relates to the soul’s journey through life.

The card speaks of a summation, a gathering in of energy and experience, a completion or ending, but also a new beginning, continuity. The movement of the energy is a spiral, the most basic form in nature, from DNA to seashells to nebulae. I feel the archetype this card represents is a central theme for the times we are in, a great turning, on a global level. How do we find our place in the world, respond to massive global issues and upheavals, and how do we create the future? The “world” is a seething mass of culture, nature, politics, migrations, war, calamities of all sorts, broadcast through media. Yet, there are the inner worlds we create through mind and imagination, art, poetry music, as well as the small intimate worlds of loved ones, home, gardens, and personal sanctuaries. The dancer in the cards is the eternal self in the midst of swirling temporal forces, the dance of life. As we come through the month of Cancer, the Solstice and the full moon, balance between the world of collective forces and the personal worlds we nurture is our mission.

In the Garden

In the Northern Hemisphere the days are longest now as the Sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Cancer, before traveling back to the Tropic of Capricorn. This is high summer, the time of fairies and nature spirits, midsummer night’s dreams that call us to abandon overly serious concerns of life and appreciate beauty.

Water lilies (nymphaea, water spirits) seem to me the quintessential Cancer flower, as they float serenely over dark water. They close at night and open to the morning sun. They are little cousins to the lotus, a flower sacred in ancient Egypt, India, and Buddhism; a symbol of peace.

“Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.” –Bhagavad Gita

The magical datura, also known by the less grand name of jimson weed, blooms in the dog days of July, when the dog star, Sirius
rises with the sun. The luminous blooms open at dusk, sending their intoxicating scent into the garden and attracting the fairy-like sphinx moth.

My poppies have lingered longer this year, in spite of hot weather. They have established themselves in sandy cracks between flagstones, refusing to grow in proper beds. in some versions of the myth it was the poppy that lured the maiden Persephone, rather than the narcissus.They have an association with graves and death, but I love them for their wild ways and color.

Love and Summer Blessings,

Exuberance of Spring Gives Way

Mimi Hedl

Sooner or later, the exuberance of spring has to fade, and the business of producing seed and fruit begins in earnest. The crazy ways spring makes us feel, having to do many things at the same time and feeling like we make no headway, have disappeared for another year, and we can settle in to our summer routines.

So I go about my daily chores, filling bird baths, spending 45 minutes on bamboo eradication, (GRRRR!!!) pushing tomato plants back inside cages, all the while taking stock of what chores need doing: straw on black currants and rhubarb, make a bed for last five purple sweet potato plants, plant more zinnia seed, sow pole bean seed where tall telephone peas ripen seed and the list, of course, goes on.

View of the culinary garden from the figs

And then, at least for the next few days, I do what I want to do, and not what I HAVE to do. Let the play begin. Of course to the casual observer, it still looks like work. I don’t lay in the hammock and contemplate my navel, or read one of the books in my stack of summer reading, I do garden-related things, but chores I’ve neglected because they seemed so trivial and unimportant, but they nagged at me, nevertheless. With the pressure of spring released, I glide into the new season.

The pokeweed in the perennial garden looks beautiful, its architecture magnificent, but I know what lies in store if I don’t dig out the roots. Three good-sized plants grow now; I could have a forest of them. It takes ten minutes to dig out the deep tap roots, used to treat cancerous tumors. Pokeweed leaves, early in spring, provide greens that taste like asparagus. The berries produce a beautiful dye. These facts gather in my mind as I dig; the folklore of every plant dear to me. I warn folks that every part of this plant has poisonous qualities; that you have to change the water twice when you cook the greens. The fact this plant contains an anti-viral mitogen makes me respect it even more. I don’t know how the research has gone in HIV and cancer treatments, but would provide an interesting topic for anyone so inclined.

I move to the first quarter acre that, slowly, I am giving back to native plants. In the far section, near Kuan-yin and the downed red oak, staghorn sumac tries to move in. The mother plants produce beautiful red fruits; and if you’ve seen adult male deer’s antlers, you know exactly what the fruit looks like. What a fine lemonade drink the berries make. Boiled in water, strained, a bit of simple syrup added, and who needs lemons?! I like the mother plants along the fence row and in the wild area, but I don’t want them moving into the “meadow” as they belong to the cashew family and cause a slight dermatitis when you brush up against them.

The runners pull out easily when they first come up, effortlessly really. But since the tornado, I haven’t ventured into that area, and now have twenty suckers coming up through the tall grasses. I use my pruners and cut them as close to the ground as possible. They’ll sucker again, but this time I won’t wait so long. While doing this, I pile some of the redbud branches into a neater pile, out of the way of the mower. This little effort makes me feel more in control of my world and more able to deal with the results of the tornado. I sit down, in the grasses, and watch all the fluttering about me. Because I burn these areas in winter, I don’t have to worry about ticks, a blessing indeed. Just to sit and watch all the life flitting about me. Ahhh…

clematis versicolor

Before lunch I go out to the park and weed around one of Missouri’s native clematis, versicolor. I’ve worked around this delicate clematis, opening up so the area so its beauty comes through. Have you seen a sweeter flower? The first of the plumbago has begun to bloom there too. That little scene inspires me, the simple beauty; an awareness of how many years I’ve waited to watch this vignette unfold. Don’t we live for these moments and then stand back and sigh with pleasure.

The last chore before I walk into the house for lunch and a nap, I cut a dead end off the vitex, or summer lilac. Every time I walk by, many times every day, it bugs me, sitting there dead and ugly, right in my line of vision. But I don’t take the time to use the ratchet pruners because I have too many important things to do….Whatever, it took 5 seconds. Now a list of small tasks that irritated me, have disappeared and I feel lighter and happier. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much.

The gardens fill with lovely scenes. The eyes know how to frame these pictures. We walk our gardens so often, we manipulate the vista, tweak it here and there, creating a world, our world, that gives us beauty and inspiration. I give you a couple of mine.

Butterfly weed and grinding stone

Fresh Peas in June

by Mimi Hedl

Oh to stand in the garden before sunrise, picking peas that will grace one of my favorite springtime meals: new potatoes and garden peas in a cream sauce, seasoned with mint. This year only the amount of new potatoes I want to sacrifice will limit me. The tall telephone peas have reached the 7-foot mark, and each vine has dozens of pods, each with six or seven peas stuffed with sweetness and delight.

I’d never grown potatoes before coming to Strawdog. Gladys, a grandmother figure who cussed like a sailor and taught me how to pluck the down off geese, talked about “graveling for potatoes.” I’d never heard the expression. You reach your hand under the plant (after it flowers, indicating that fruit exists below), and steal some of the small, new potatoes. Don’t take too many! Three or four small potatoes from each plant; you know you’ll come back for more.

I’ll have a salad with my dream spring meal too. Lettuce still grows, but has started throwing up a central flower stalk and some of the older leaves, near the stem, exude the bitter latex wild lettuce has in excess. If I trim each leaf near the base, then the rest of the leaf tastes sweet. Now that the daylilies, hemerocallis fulva, have begun blooming, they cap my salads instead of tomatoes, that will come later.

Do you put daylily blossoms in your salad? Or maybe you’ve made a salad exclusively with daylilies. Talk about color! If you grow different hybrids and don’t use poisons, you can serve an exclusively beautiful salad, unique to your flower garden.

I told a young gardener with a new nursery she could eat the daylilies, and demonstrated their goodness, to her delight. The next time I saw her, she said she told her four children about eating the blossoms, and they proceeded to sample them all. They preferred her most expensive daylily, Catherine Woodbury. She said they claimed it had the sweetest flavor.

Such pleasure to hold a daylily flower in your hand and pluck the petals from the stamens, then drop the stamens and pedicel in the compost bucket. It feels like an adult version of “he loves me, he loves me not.” The petals stay crisp longer than lettuce, but I still refrigerate the blossoms until I use them. Truthfully, usually I make a mad dash to the garden just as I prepare to serve the salad. Folks tend not to want to try the flower, they scrinch up their faces, but once they do, they feel equally surprised at the flavor and texture, crisp and fresh, just like lettuce. They become instant converts.

When the day has come to a close, the last peas blanched and packed in bags for the freezer, eyes too tired to read anymore, I lie on my bed in the summer kitchen, with katydids filling the background, the jagged hum of summer, and watch the fireflies illuminate the sweet gum tree with flickering light. I could be back in Superior, Wisconsin, walking home in the dark from playing with the neighborhood kids, trying to catch fireflies and immortalize them on my body.

Calm Returns to This Hilltop

by Mimi Hedl

A week has passed since the tornado roared by the summer kitchen, me with the covers over my head, like a scared little girl, trying to hide from the monster in the closet. My son-in-law has gently scolded me for not going down to the root cellar, or at least inside the house, into the bathroom, and waiting until calm returned. I assured him I had no time to run down to the root cellar, the wind would have carried me away. Maybe I should have gone inside, but I witnessed, on a lesser scale, the beginning of the universe.

From under the covers, in the darkness of early, early morning, I heard the freight train coming directly for me. Although I trembled and curled into the fetal position, no thoughts ran through my mind, I simply surrendered. Or maybe one thought did pass through my consciousness; the energy I felt must’ve been what swirled about when the universe came into existence. For that I trembled in awe.

After the tornado passed, I fell back to sleep, not waking until neighbors knocked on my door to see if I survived the night. They told me of all the trees that came down on Strawdog, on the county road and on their property, and I felt grateful for my life. In thirty-five years, we never came face to face with a tornado.

And so the clean-up began. My love, and need, for order destroyed, I made piles of dead branches and green branches. The dry ones I can burn soon, the green I’ll add to the brush piles as they burn. So much brush. So much bending. This will take weeks and weeks. The great-great grand daddy tree, thrust into the earth like a tooth pick, made an arch I can walk under, mow under, until this fall, when someone has time to take it apart, piece by piece. The top of that red oak covers half of the quarter-acre garden, where Kuan-yin stands. The landscape turned topsy-turvy.

The exhaustion that comes with a natural disaster, or any kind of crisis, attempts to subvert my good nature. I go slowly, concentrating on weeding one plot at a time, preparing one seed bed, planting beans and melons, trying not to look at what I have no control over. All in good time, all in good time, I repeat, ad nauseam. Those simple words keep my sanity in check. How do people in war-torn countries survive? I notice more news stories about people dealing with disasters, or I pay more attention to those stories. At one time or another, we all deal with one plague or another; some seem hit harder than others. Sigh.

The Flanders poppies bloom. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row…” They bloom with larkspur and milk thistle all in happy reverie. The bees busily work the pollen until the flowers look worked over with loving attention.

A common yellow-throated warbler came to the front door. It had injured a foot. I snuggled it in the red honeysuckle, hoping he would heal and fly on.

Then a flat-nosed skink and his friend basked on the summer kitchen, not caring that I came within a few inches. The sun felt divine.

And the Indian pinks bloom in profusion, multiplying many times over in another meadow area. First I planted one, and now I see dozens and dozens. Glory be to the flowers. My peace and equilibrium will return, for now, I feel grateful for quiet moments.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns

by Nita Hill

I put Joni Mitchell on to inspire. The album cover features a group of people carrying a boa constrictor (I have no idea if boas hiss). When I think of hissing and lawns I think of sprinkler systems. In Portlandia if you are an ordinary person and you happen to water your lawn you would be labeled a pariah. Here in Trumplandia, people who live in houses that are worth less than their cars have sprinkler systems. I am very uncomfortable having the sprinkler system automatically discharging such a valuable commodity. In the first place, I have maimed it several times with my now totally dull shovel and it might cost a bit to “get her up and running” and secondly, I am a creature of guilt.

Honestly though, I did spend about an hour with the PDF of the brain of the system and made no progress at all so I bought the arching/fan kind you connect to the hose and will try not to let the front yard go to hell.

In Portlandia people have removed most of the grass and have veg gardens or some fruit trees in the front so that they can survive the apocalypse or at least look like they care. Here, I guess people don’t worry about the apocalypse or maybe for them it has already occurred.

While we are on the subject of lawns, there will be dandelions. I personally don’t have a huge charge on them. The other day I took my dandelion popper to hand and aimlessly walked around the back yard popping some out. It is really satisfying to get the whole “carrot” out but it rarely happens. It the six years we lived in our last house, I was able to reduce the population of the back yard to only a few from almost total coverage. Anyway, the guy who is putting down a new floor in our basement after he ripped out the dreadful brown shag asked what I was doing. I think of it more of a walking meditation than a project of interest, but he thinks like the natives, so he owned the issue here. He told me that just that day he had seen someone vacuuming the seed heads with a real vacuum. Not a shop vac even, but a carpet vacuum. I have to say, that is impressive and if you hear a hiss rather than a roar from a vacuum it makes for a perfect way to wrap up this missive.

Garden Excavations 2, The Sequel

by Nita Hill

I haven’t bothered to count how many gardens I’ve inherited. The first house I ever owned cost 20K and was in a neighborhood in Memphis in the midst of gentrification. There was a strip of land between me and Spencer. Spencer spent his time on his front porch sitting in a rotting Lazyboy in a bathrobe that his butt had worn through. Sometimes after a day of imbibing he would rise and stand on the edge of the porch and howl like a wolf. The narrow strip seemed to need planting. I would go to the state forest and steal ferns because I was poor and because the strip was under several large oak trees. Well, digging it out became an adventure in car parts. Someone had worked on a truck or car and simply thrown the parts in the strip where they were buried under years of leaf mulch. I thought that those parts would be the worst thing I ever encountered.

Working on this latest garden I’ve found the ordinary stuff: Legos, Christmas light bulbs, shingle scraps, lots of used charcoal briquettes, nails and screws and even a poker chip. Then I came upon an orb.

The orb looked familiar and, before too long and much digging, it revealed itself.

Eventually the entire commode was exhumed. I don’t expect to find anything that interesting ever again.


by Mimi Hedl

Kuan-yin stands near the edge of the old asparagus beds. In Buddhist mythology, she represents the Goddess of Mercy. In paintings of Kuan-yin, she has a dove flying toward her, representing fecundity. We all want a fertile garden, so we chose this particular aspect of her nature to accentuate. We could call on her mercy when the early frosts came or droughts threatened. Over the years we found it easier to give simple titles to our yard art, a catchy phrase for visitors to latch onto. More complete explanations could come later, when we sat down at the kitchen table to visit.

Ron, ever-resourceful, made her body out of a steel tomato cage with an old lamp shade frame wired to the top of the cage. After four years on Strawdog, we had a surplus of old canning lids, the gilt for her magnificent presence. We hammered holes in the lids, two together, to sparkle on both sides, wired them in long strands, and soon Kuan-yin came alive.

In those early years, the trees and shrubs we began to plant hadn’t made much of a presence. You could see our place from D highway, the state road 400 feet away. When we erected her, we had strangers stopping by wanting to know what that sparkling thing was. “It’s so bright it nearly blinded me as I drove by,” said one farmer. He didn’t know about Buddhism, but he did know about helping things grow. Since we already had the title of “those weird folks,” this only added fuel.

About seven years ago, the Mary Washington asparagus we started from seed, directly sown in the four beds, tenderly weeded by Ron, began to slow down, as did this gardener. At first I simply mowed the paths between the beds instead of mulching them. That helped, but it still seemed like too much labor for little return. Then, during the dog days one summer, feeling defeated, I stopped mowing those paths, stopped weeding the beds too. Abandoning those beds, that carried my footprints as well as asparagus, over many years, made me sad.

Little by little, I began to see subtle changes. The natives from bed #5, the native propagation bed, began to seed in both bed #6, the comfrey bed, and the paths of the asparagus beds. That made me happy. The royal catchfly, silene regia, a tall, red hummingbird flower, went wild, as if it had waited for this moment. Seedlings began to appear everywhere. Suddenly, hundreds of plants appeared. Notoriously difficult, they became the envy of the wildflower folks. I demurred, I had nothing to do with it, just stopped mowing.

It baffled me to watch the changes. Purple poppy mallow grew in paths, in beds, under asparagus, near Hollis’s thistle. (Every time I see one of these evil dudes, I put a bamboo stake in the ground, so I know where to attack with pitch fork.)The aromatic aster ─ so named because as soon as you find yourself brushing up against it, you swoon ─ knew no bounds. A favorite with the migrating monarchs, another nectar source multiplied.

And the blue-eyed prairie grass appeared out of nowhere. It belongs in the iris family, though so small as to appeal to fairies. Once you realize you look at an iris, you see the family characteristics, but until then, you don’t know how to look at the plant.

This new prairie has taught me how to look. I visit it early in the morning, before the sun rises, and later in the evening when the sun has begun to set. The light at those times fascinates me. I see plants and insects at one time that I couldn’t see at another time.Down on all fours, the best way to become part of a landscape, I find tiny seedlings, wild lettuce that has to come out so as not to contaminate the seed I’ll save from cultivated lettuce, and asparagus I’d missed in the morning. Like a child, I explore and savor, lying down now and then, to look up at the clouds.

As with wild places, a sense of peace, different from more heavily worked parts of the homestead, fills this space. That probably explains why I visit it so often. I like to pick the asparagus too, if only a handful a day. My evolution as a gardener, as a woman, seems present here. Memories drift by as I walk in the twilight. I pause for a moment, let them in, then watch them disappear as a firefly glides by. Kuan-yin accompanies me. She still blesses the gardens with fecundity and me with her mercy.

Kuan-yin accompanies.

Rock Garden

by Nita Hill

I just finished it yesterday. There are more plants than you can see. I borrowed extensively from the rest of the garden.

There were railroad ties going down into the sunken patio. I scabbed them from the patio and made these stairs. I think they are safe. These are 80 lbs of concrete in there!