Planting Carrots

I dig my fingers into the earth, raking aside clumps of mud that cling to my gloves, reminding me vaguely of the way wet bread dough sticks to an unfloured surface. No kneading being done here though, just a little excavation happening in a small plot of dirt located directly beneath my living room window. For most of the year, this plot is decorated with fallen leaves from the century-old maple that sprawls above. But this spring, I’m determined to change it into a garden – more specifically, a garden planted with carrots. So the leaves have been raked, the rogue weeds pulled, and I now find myself kneeling upon the ground in what is soon to be the best garden on my street (or so I hope).

woman planting seeds in the vegetable bedI’ve given up on my trowel as it just wasn’t as therapeutic as pulling and digging with my hands, and so I work my fingers into the earth, making three, long rows for my carrot seeds. I scrape aside some unknown plant that has long-since perished and soon come across one of the roots of the maple tree. Anchored steadily into the ground, it snakes endlessly beneath the surface like some gigantic python. A little more digging reveals a lonely tulip bulb. I pull it out and set it aside; I’ll plant that somewhere else.

Ants spill hurriedly from the earth as I continue to dig my rows, scrabbling over one another as they try to get away from the monster that has crashed into their home. A much slower, milky white grub writhes against its discovery, vampire-like in its repulsion at the sun shining upon its glossy body. A robin, red-breasted and twittering, soars down from one of the maple’s branches and lands a few feet away, all eyes on the grub that has begun its slow descent back into the cool dampness of the earth.

I finish digging and sit back to admire my handiwork. All looks good. I tear open the packet of carrot seeds, revealing the surprisingly small, brown seeds that jostle and rattle around, eager to be planted. “An inch deep” listed the instructions for planting and I drop the seeds into the rows, three clusters at a time, before I tuck them in with a blanket of earth and give them a quick shower with the watering can.

A rabbit is watching me from afar, nose twitching in my direction. If my carrots sprout and then disappear, I know who will be to blame. But for now, my seeds stay safely cradled underground. I can imagine them now, snuggling into their earthy bed, anchoring down into their new home with eager roots, awaiting the day when their shoots will sprout to see the sun and become the fully fledged carrots that they are meant to be.

Hilary Hirtle is a freelance writer and editor. She is an avid nature enthusiast and environmental activist. She currently resides in Westerville, OH.

Photo by Denis And Yulia Pogostins

Nature Perseveres at Akron Falls Park

Sunday starts spectacular. A sixty degree spring day with an invitation from a good friend are enough to coax me out of my fair weather nature lover hibernation, back into the warmth and outdoors that I love. It’s been months. Our destination is Akron Falls Park in Western New York for some hiking. This was a favorite place when I was in high school. Nearly forty years have passed since I’ve been, so I’m looking forward to seeing what may have changed since my friends and I had time to sprawl out on blankets next to our cars, soak in the sun and chat the day away.

The half hour drive to the park is a treat in and of itself. I choose a route where the less trafficked rural winding roads are a perfect excuse to turn up the music and enjoy. The farmers are out on the tractors and that fresh smell of spreading fertilizer fills the air. I don’t mind the unmistakable smell, my nostrils accept all that my open window has to offer, just as my eyes appreciate the wide open space set out before me in beautiful patterned fields.

Akron Falls early springWhen I arrive at the park, it seems much smaller than I remember. I meet my friends and a hiking group at our predetermined spot and after polite introductions our stroll begins. Akron Falls, the namesake signature forty-foot waterfall that highlights the park begins the trail. The water is gushing today, still overflowing from the torrential rains that fell in the days before, which allows for a mighty view and scenic photo backdrop. After group shots and selfies, we continue on our path bordering Murder Creek, the source of the falls. We hike for a bit, puddle jumping and straddling the mud-soaked ground. To the left of us are small tree-laden cliffs that send down mini waterfalls of their own, producing glistening streams over black shale and creating pools at our feet. Moss has made its pretty carpet over the fallen trees, and we have fun identifying and admiring the new spring growth including trout lilies, coltsfoot, wild ginger and white and purple flowers.

Since this is my first hike of the season and I am accustomed to facing a computer Monday through Friday, I take a rest and settle on a perfect perching log on the edge of the trail, content to let my group go on ahead without me as I sit and observe. The passing hikers are friendly and many have dogs, so I have the good fortune of getting some pets in with the exchanged pleasantries. There are many families out today. Across the creek is a park with a playground in close proximity to the creek. Squealing children delight on the swings, walking the chains into twists and letting them go until they spin. And boys, both little and big are heaving rocks both little and big into the water, somehow a nature must for humans I’ve decided, that I will never grow tired of watching.Tree-lined trail and old bridge

I like to sit in nature to slow my world down and reconnect with my five senses and beyond. It is an extra perk to see people take time to fish, bend over to pick up sticks and play. There must be a small airport nearby, as occasionally a Cessna makes its way above my head. As if to mimic, far away in a field through the trees I can see several small remote control planes scatter themselves about. When a Dad walks by side by side with his little girl’s small fist wrapped around his pinky, it makes me happy. When he picks her up and places her beside him on the railing of a small nearby bridge with his arm securely wrapped around her to enjoy the creek view, it makes me happier because I can feel the love he has for her in the moment.

Muddy Murder CreekBefore long, our group returns to that same bridge where I rejoin them. I’m told that I just missed the legend of how Murder Creek got its name, which I am in a way pleased about since the father/daughter silhouette is still etched in my mind. We head back to our starting point saying our goodbyes and my being grateful for a wonderful start to my hiking season.

As I take the same relaxing route back home through the countryside, one of my favorite songs, Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” comes streaming through the radio. The timing is exquisite as his gentle voice sings, “In your eyes, I see the doorway to a thousand churches,” at the precise moment I pass a small chapel with a sign out front. “Love always perseveres.” I smile in agreement, thinking back to all of the families I saw today, thanking my friend and saying to myself, “Ah yes, and so does nature.”
Yellow Flowers close-up

Mary Clista Dahl has been exercising her passion for pouring out her heart and soul on paper from the moment she first held a pen in her hand. Her desire to promote joy, love and compassion through the written word, combined with a perpetual calling to help, have become the foundation for her life’s work, Capture Life Writing. A people and nature lover, Mary receives most of her inspiration by connecting with the outdoors and others. After more than thirty years of assisting college students with their life and career paths, she is transitioning to her idea of heaven on earth, spending time with friends and family and playing at the nature preserves and beaches of Florida. Besides taking nature walks, her greatest joys come from being a Mom, encouraging others and being a lifelong listener of the most gratifying statement ever, “Have Mary do it, she likes to write.”

Photos by Mary Clista Dahl

Visit Mary Clista Dahl at Capture Life Writing and on Facebook.

A Sierra Night Remembered

young friends sitting near campfire by lakeThe thin, orange thread of twilight cracked through the darkness. On the lake shore, hippie boys with sand-dusted feet, played conga drums; their hands slapped the drum-skin, and the short, sharp percussion sang into my bones. A campfire glowed, its fire illuminating dark-shadows that danced in the warm night. We threw off our clothes, ran into the black water and swam towards the moon’s reflection. We sipped fruity-sweet drinks that made my legs wobble. We slept on a wooden wharf, until the water’s waves woke me, churning my stomach with its motion. I grabbed my sleeping bag, walked into the softness of sand and slept.

In the morning, we traveled up the mountain to a lupine-lined trail surrounded by rugged peaks-polished like jewels. I inhaled deeply, sucked in the sweet scent of sun-warmed pine needles and minty Pennyroyal. We hiked higher and higher, beneath tall pines, where slivers of sun-rays fell on our dust-coated boots. We stopped by a twisted Juniper tree, its trunk folded into the ground by years of heavy winds and snow. Then, we stepped out of the trees and into the light where spectacular vistas opened to miles of mountains with snow-capped crests, puffy cumulus clouds, bright-white against a deep-blue sky.

We set up camp on smooth granite stone. My companions had strapped guitars to their backpacks, so we could sing. As the sun sank behind the mountain, we sang Indigo Girls and Neil Young. We sang the moon up into the sky, where it reflected its light down onto the lake. A fire sizzled and snapped to the music, joined by a chorus of coyotes; their staccato yips and howls echoed across the stone bowl that formed the lake. When our songs ended, we slept under stars. I slipped into dreams as the wind blew and the water slapped against the shore. Deep into the night, I awoke. The wind had died down and the coyote’s song had ceased and the world was black and soundless. And even now, as I remember, I can feel the comfort in the stillness of that night.

Kandi MaxwellKandi Maxwell lives and writes in the Sierra foothills of Northern California. She walks through forests, soaks and splashes in rivers, lakes and hot springs, and bends frequently in downward dog. She is a retired high school English teacher. Her work has been published in Fair Haven Literary Review, KYSO Flash, The Raven’s Perch, One in Four, Foliate Oak, and others. Her work has been nominated for The Best American Essay series.

Photo by Tyler Olson

The Moon-lit Waters of a Costa Rican Cliff

moon night on the sea with waves and rocksIt’s very misty up here, and the windy road’s edge seems to fall into nothingness. Fog makes the trip up the mountain look like a horror movie. When I reach the top, we go down, but this time the sun greets us, just as it is getting ready for bed. Splashes of red blue purple yellow and orange create hypnotic patterns in the sky. The sun begins to kiss the horizon line, and the orchestra of exotic birds, animals, and bugs comes to an end, with soft light provided by the moon. Just as a day on a Costa Rican cliffside ends, the night begins.

At night I look up to the night sky and see every star as if it was as bright as the sun, while the moon illuminated the ground beneath me. I could see constellations, and watch the shooting star pass by. It seems almost magical, unreal even, and yet there I was; witnessing the beauty of the glittering sky above.

I look down, and see a small patch of sand where I could stand. I climb down the rock face and plop myself in this small area. It had to have been almost two in the morning, and somehow I never get tired of standing on this little sand bar, I didn’t even get a single fear of the nocturnal predators around me. I see a fin poke out of the water, and now a second one as well. That’s when I begin to feel that these creatures are giving me some company, enjoying the moonlit shallows. The light makes the patterns as the bottom of the water, to which is when I would jump in.

I could see so much beautiful sea life, and confront the finned creatures. With the help of the moon I could see them, and the flow in their movement. I came face to face with one, and learned their real secret. They are afraid of us. They don’t know what they do, and all they want to to be shown true respect. They are afraid of us because we are afraid of them, so to speak. We should treat them as equals to us, because all life is significant. I learned all of this while sliding my hand down their sand paper backs, and with my eyes open. They shall now forever be opened, always. Whether it be warm water in the cold night, or cold water in the heat of day, I now see them clearer than ever

I wake to the dancing of colors across the sky of dawn. Splashes of red, blue, purple, yellow, and orange create hypnotic patterns in the sky. The sun rises from the edge of the forest and over the cliff. I am back on the sand bar, and begin my way up the face of the cliff. Just as a night on a Costa Rican cliff side ends, the day just begins.

Photo by Pavlo Vakhrushev

The Sunflower Way

closeup of golden sunflowers and blue skyWhenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to be off again on a road trip. Not for us—the freeways with their endless lines of speeding traffic and sterile scenery. By choosing to explore an unfamiliar back road or byway, delightful and unexpected surprises often result.

The Queensland road between Warwick and Toowoomba is usually a busy highway. While searching for an alternate route, we discovered a 50 kilometre stretch taking us from Warwick to Allora. Since this lovely little town is only a stone’s throw away from Toowoomba, our newly found road, the Sunflower Way, proved irresistible. At Warwick we entered it via Victoria Street, turned right into Rosehill Road, and followed the signs to Allora. This was a perfect choice!

A patchwork countryside of ploughed black soil, green lucerne, and brick-red sorghum delighted us. But it was the fields of golden sunflowers in full bloom that provided a magnificent sight, even in late March at the end of the sunflower cycle. Drifts of deep yellow fields stretched as far as we could see.

Sunflowers are majestic, towering over most people’s heads, and they grow best in full sunshine. The seeds are sold as a snack food or as a component of a bird seed package. Sunflower oil, extracted directly from the seeds, creates inexpensive cooking oil and is also an additive to biodiesel fuel. After the seeds have been processed, the remaining cake becomes healthy livestock feed.

The name, Sunflower (helianthus annuus), possesses only one large flower head, sitting atop a tall unbranched stem. It may have derived its name from the blooming yellow gold head, which resembles the sun. A number of fields had already been harvested with their brilliant flower heads gone and the stalks standing alone – like solitary sentinels. These will finally whither and fall, waiting to be ploughed back into the soil as green manure. Thankfully enough fields remained in all their blazing glory to make our drive along the Sunflower Way a memorable one.

When we reached the township of Allora we explored its historic streets. These feature buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, together with lovingly tended gardens and parks. The area also offers an opportunity to visit the heritage listed, ‘Glengallan Homestead.’ Our drive was a delightful way to finally reach our destination of Toowoomba. If you find yourself here in high summer, its radiant fields of gold will take your breath away. Yet in any season this back road is a beauty, so be sure to put it on your bucket list and make time to enjoy the Sunflower Way.

Click here to visit Mary’s website of photography and writing: Nature as Art and Inspiration.

Photo by the author