"How our spirits soar
How our hearts leap
with the spring! "
And maybe, just maybe, by next Easter, UUCS will be “in person”, and we can gather together and sing as one voice “Lo, the earth awakes again.” Wouldn’t that be nice!
"Lo, the earth awakes again" begins the Unitarian Universalist version of the traditional Christian Easter hymn. It is a hymn that even a UU congregation can sing lustily, and it is one of my favorites. When Diane and I lived in Vermont "lo the earth awakes again" had special meaning as by Easter, crocuses were poking up their purple and yellow heads (sometimes through the snow, left), and if we were lucky, daffodils were just beginning to flower.
Diane and I have been in Sarasota for 23 years now, and we still miss the Vermont spring flowers and flowering shrubs, but we do have our Florida version of spring to help compensate. Our Sarasota landscape is dotted with gold trees, pink orchid trees and oak trees sporting their bright spring green coats. Spring comes to the UUCS campus as well. The aforementioned oak trees turn bright green, the flame vine at the northern Memorial Garden gate welcomes one to the garden with its bright orange flowers, red Easter Lilies line one of the garden pathways, right. We even have an “Easter cactus” in bloom - it didn’t bloom at Christmas but is now. And of course, our UUCS Memorial Garden spring colors benefit from the numerous orchids, below, that dot all corners, hanging from the fence around the pond and from locations on various trees.
The last two lines in the aforementioned UU hymn captures my feelings about a Florida spring:
"How our spirits soar
How our hearts leap
with the spring! "
And maybe, just maybe, by next Easter, UUCS will be “in person”, and we can gather together and sing as one voice “Lo, the earth awakes again.” Wouldn’t that be nice!
I was in our car in the parking lot of the Venice Community Center, waiting for Diane and my second vaccination shots. I was also participating by phone on a Zoom meeting of the UUCS executive committee as I wanted to be sure to fulfill my role as church treasurer. Being “thoroughly modern Richard”, I found I could do it by smart phone. Our car inched forward in the vaccination lane, and I could see a technician approaching, needle in hand. I immediately hit my phone’s “mute button” - I certainly didn’t want the rest of the executive committee to hear me howling in pain from the forthcoming “jab”. “This will just burn a bit,” said the technician with a smile. She stabbed, I flinched, but of course I could barely feel it. We pulled into the fifteen minute “wait to see if you are having a problem” line, I unmuted and continued my participation in the meeting.
“I like this idea of participating in a meeting by Zoom,”I said to Diane on our way back to Sarasota. “Gardening by Zoom”, maybe?” (Diane is chair of the Grounds Crew.)
“Nope,” she said. “Your physical presence is needed. It is Golden Rain Tree seedling season and you are very good at pulling those ubiquitous little guys out of the ground. They are running amok”.
Really? Running amok? Is that some gardening term? But I knew better than to complain and on the way home we stopped at Church. I jumped from the car, flexed my jabbed arm and proceeded to pull one hundred seedlings from the memorial garden. “Running amok” indeed!
Return of the monarchs? Sounds like a Netflix television series, doesn’t it, but we are hoping for butterflies, not kings and queens. We had planted milkweed - which monarch butterflies love - behind the church kitchen porch a number of years ago, hoping to attract the lovely orange and black insects. During the first year or two we had success, one year producing 13 caterpillars, feeling like midwives as we watched them go thorough the whole process from egg laying to beautiful butterflies. More recently, our luck has not been as good, as some years no monarchs were attracted at all. But this year our milkweed is flourishing, and we have seen monarch butterflies flitting about the flowers and have already discovered three caterpillars.
A year ago our little church milkweed garden had no monarchs and, as the pandemic hit, there were no church people either as our church campus closed down. But maybe, just maybe, this year our church garden will produce beautiful butterflies and, as the pandemic eases and our membership gets vaccinated, people will be able to return to the campus as well. Butterflies and people - wouldn’t that be nice!
On a recent Tuesday morning, I intended to join the Tuesday morning UUCS garden crew working in the Memorial Garden, but an ailing hip was acting up so I found a good spot to sit and watch our masked volunteer gardeners prune, cut, weed and clip. Maybe I could claim credit for supervising?
Diane, our gardening crew chief (and my wife) sensing that something more than my hip was ailing, came over to join me on the walkway bench overlooking the Memorial Garden. “You have the September blues don’t you?” she said. “Every year you whine about how it is still hot and humid here and there are hurricanes lurking about while in our native Vermont the air is crisp and cool and the leaves are colorful and bright. And this year, your hip is bothering you, causing you to be, well, a bit of a pain in the butt.”
I thought she had summed up my mental and medical make-up pretty well although I like to think of myself as curmudgeonly rather than a pain in the butt.
Diane continued. “Well, we don’t have bright oranges, reds and yellows here in our tropical paradise, but to cheer you up, Bob Milner, our UUCS orchid specialist, added a beautiful purple orchid to the Memorial Garden the other day. It is absolutely gorgeous. Take a look- it will raise your spirits.”
I did look, and my disposition improved. And, as Diane reminded me, it won’t be long before I will be writing gloating emails to friends in the north, as they struggle with ice, snow and subzero temperatures while we are out and about in shorts and tee shirts.
As for the present, I said to Diane “maybe we could buy a big orange pumpkin and place it in the memorial garden. Wouldn’t that be nice?
“Delightful,” said Diane, but the tone of her voice suggested that we wouldn’t be buying big orange pumpkins any time soon.
“Oh, no, don’t let the rain come down,
Oh, no, don’t let the rain come down,
Oh, no, don’t let the rain come down.
My roof has a hole in it, and I might drown.”
I was standing outside the UUCS Sanctuary watching the rain pouring off the sanctuary roof. Protected by an umbrella, I was singing rather loudly and probably a bit off key, but the church campus was closed so I wasn’t worried about anyone hearing me.
But then Diane, UUCS Grounds Chair (and my wife), came along, umbrella in hand and joined me under the sanctuary canopy. “I heard some strange noises, so I came to investigate. Now I can see that the strange noises are coming from you. What on earth are you singing?” she asked.
“It’s a sixties song, sung by the Serendipity Singers and it seems very appropriate.”
[Editor's note: see video below]
“And just why is it ‘appropriate’? And if you are going to sing, why not ‘Singing in the Rain’?” asked Diane. [see video below]
“Ed Loomis, UUCS Buildings Chair told me that recently we have had to have the roof repaired several times and, in the process, discovered a hole in the roof. Thus, ‘my roof has a hole in it’ seemed appropriate.”
“Not exactly the cause for celebration. Is everything safe inside? What about the piano?” Diane wondered.
“Yes, everything is okay, mostly just a few puddles, but every time we get a heavy rain, we have to make sure that the floor gets mopped up and the piano is protected. The sanctuary is scheduled for re-roofing in 2024 but I am guessing that we may have to do it much sooner.”
“Ugh. Do we have the money to do it or will we have to do a go-fund-me campaign?”
“We do in fact have the money put aside in our reserves. I am the church treasurer, and I know these things.”
Diane flashed me a look that said, ‘big deal’. “And you remembered that little ditty that you were singing? From fifty-five years ago?”
“Absolutely,” I answered,
Diane grinned. “Well then to quote a 1950 song, ‘baby you’re much older than I’”.
[video of "Dearie" found through the help of editor's college friend, Gary Alexander]
I quickly folded my umbrella and walked out to the car. I know when to “hold em” and when to “fold em”.
[Yes, folks, there's a video for this song, too.]
I sat on one of the garden benches, hand on chin, frown on brow. UUCS Gardening Chair, Diane Happy, spotted me from the other side of the garden. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’ve got a bad case of the shilly-shallies,” I replied.
“The what?” said Diane, looking confused.
“You know, the shilly-shallies - when you are indecisive and can’t decide what to do. I feel that way about the church gardens this summer - I don’t know what to tackle next -weeding, pruning or trimming. I might even have to do some watering with this July drought we’ve been having.”
Diane reminded me that many of the UUCS volunteer garden crew has been coming by the church at odd hours helping Katherine keep everything under control while the campus is closed.
“And,” she added, “unlike you, they don’t shilly-shally or even dilly-dally, so you need to quit your lollygagging and get to work!”
“Ah, yes,” I said, somewhat chastened. “I shall go forth and neither dawdle, delay nor tarry.”
Diane just shook her head and added “And while you’re at it, please lose the thesaurus!”
“What are you thinking about?” asked Diane. We were sitting on a sanctuary walkway bench watching a torrential rain pour off the sanctuary roof last week.
“Noah,” I said. “And his arc.”
“You are going to build an ark?” she asked. “And by the way ark is spelled with a ‘k’.”
Everyone’s a critic I said to myself. “No, but this reminds me of the Biblical forty days and forty nights. We’ve had over ten inches of rain even before this storm.”
“Usually you are complaining about a lack of rain and even threatened to do a naked rain dance so that church plants would not suffer in a drought. I put a stop to that. Now you are complaining about too much rain.”
I sighed and got off the bench.
“Where are going?” said Diane.
“To try to find a Bible - maybe if I held one up in my arthritic hand, the rain would stop.”
“How did that work out for the other guy who tried it?”
I abandoned my biblical plans.
Diane and I do some gardening in the UUCS Memorial Garden in the evening. No one is around but we still wear our face masks. On a recent evening our conversation went something like this.
“Mrfmf,” I said.
“What did you say?”asked Diane.
“Mrmrf!“ I said again, with a little more emphasis.
“Ah, your mask is muffling your voice,” Diane said. “You need to speak loudly and distinctly when you have it on.”
And so I did. “Did - you- notice - that - amazing - blossom -on- the -Memorial -Garden- Magnolia - Tree?” I said.
“Drdnf,” Diane replied.
I decided to take that as a “yes”, tugged at my face mask and went back to weeding. Life in the Covid 19 era.
Diane and I have done a pretty good job of “staying at home”. We do venture out each day for a walk, keeping a good distance from the few other walkers, even developing a “back off” gesture for anyone who approaches us within the six foot range. And we did make one foray into a nearby Publix where, encased in our masks and gloves, we grabbed a freshly wiped cart and whipped around the aisles lobbing food and paper items into the cart, ignoring prices and brands. Sometimes we found ourselves going the wrong way on one way aisles, necessitating some quick u-turns.
When the “stay at home order” came from the governor, we started worrying about who would take care of the Memorial Garden at church and then Diane said “Aha, I see that ‘landscaping’ is listed as an essential service.” We are “landscaping” volunteers (and thus essential) so most evenings we escape from home and head over to the church gardens. Upon arrival, we yell out “Is anybody here?” And there never is. Other members of the UUCS garden crew have done the same, showing up at odd times for the much needed upkeep.
For us, there has been something restorative about evenings in the garden. There is a quiet beauty in a world of ugliness, satisfaction in doing something productive after a day spent reading or watching TV, and a measure of hope as the garden persists in doing well despite the on-going drought and lack of tending.
But there is also something missing, something we hope to get back in the near future. Our UUCS garden crew has always ended Tuesday gardening mornings with a gathering on the sanctuary walkway overlooking the Memorial Garden. We hydrate, chat and laugh. Lots of laughs. We miss that weekly gathering and look forward to the day when that much needed social connection will return. And there will once again be a time for laughs, lots of laughs.
“What are you looking at?” asked Diane, my wife and UUCS Garden Crew Chair, as I sat on our lanai, sequestered, bored and a bit stir crazy.
“A picture I took today in the Memorial Garden of one of Bob Milner’s orchids - they look like Cattleya skinner to me. Or you might know them as Easter orchids.’
“Your know that from your vast knowledge of orchids?” asked Diane.
“Well, no,” I said a bit sheepishly. “I asked Bob. But I was looking at the picture and thinking about how I miss our Garden Crew.”
“I think you are like the Very Lonely Firefly,” said Diane.
“What on earth are you talking about?” I asked with a frown on my face.
“The Eric Carle children’s book that I used to read with my first graders.”
“You are comparing me to first graders?” I said a bit huffily. “So anyway what about that firebug?”
“Firefly, not firebug. The Lonely Firefly is searching for community. The author says the book is about ‘belonging’. We all want to belong to a group, a family, our own fellow creatures.”
“Hmmm, I suppose that many of us are feeling the loss of belonging now. Wisdom for the times from a children’s book. And speaking of community, I think I will go FaceTime with our granddaughter and grandson.”
“Good idea. Do you know how to FaceTime?”
“Um no, do you?
“No, better call them and find out how.”
“Why are you smiling?” asked my wife, Diane. “These are some of the most sobering times of our lifetime. There is nothing to smile about.”
“No, no, it’s just that you and I have been pretty much self- isolating for the last week, and normally we spend some time every day in the church garden, and.....
Diane interjected “Are you getting tired of me?”
“No, no,” I said hurriedly, “that’s not it. It’s just that.......”
Diane interrupted again. “And you know that I am worried that when we get the volunteer Garden Crew back to work, the tasks will be overwhelming.”
“I’m worried as well,” I said, happy to get a word in edgewise.
“Then what are you smiling about?” she asked with a puzzled look on her face.
“Well, you know all those committee meetings that I used to complain about? I was smiling because I was just thinking that after a week of isolation, the interacting, the debate, and even the contentiousness that went with those meetings suddenly seemed pretty good to me. I miss being with people.”
“And I am not enough ‘people’?” asked Diane somewhat archly.
“Oh, no, your are more than enough,” I said softly. “We’ll get through this.”
From Garden Gate (with tongue planted firmly in cheek!)
A lone acorn dropped onto Dr. Dick’s hairless pate. (Dr. Dick, the garden doc, thinks he knows much, but knows little.) It was January, he was in the Memorial Garden and he was dressed in shorts and a tee shirt (it was 55 degrees out, but Dr. Dick maintained that shorts and tee shirt is always the proper attire for a Florida day.) Feeling a sharp pain on his head and knowing that it had come from above, he panicked.
“The sky is falling, the sky is falling”, he shouted. Diane (his wife, and the landscape chair), and Katherine, our custodian, heard his panicked cry and came running.
“Calm down Chicken Little – what’s the problem?” said Diane.
Dr. Dick’s voice was still anxious. “I just had an object hit me in the head and it came from the sky. The sky is falling!”
“That was an acorn and the sky isn’t falling,” said Diane resignedly.
“Well, I have never been hit in the head before like this,” said Dr. Dick.
Diane decided to let that one go and gave him a scientific explanation. “You are right,” she said, “normally the Memorial Garden oaks have produced very few acorns, but this year we are flooded with them. Apparently, the cold winter last year combined with the hot summer stressed the trees and they produced voluminous amounts of acorns.”
“I see,” said Dr. Dick, “but the Memorial Garden now is full of acorns – I’m sure that as head landscaper you have a budget to take care of this disaster.” There was silence from Diane. “You do, don’t you?” a degree of panic slipping into his voice. More silence from Diane. “You want me to pick them up don’t you?” Diane nodded. “But what if I get hit in the head again? I may end up with a different personality”.
“That would be nice.” said Diane.
Recently one of our newer members approached me in the courtyard after Sunday service. “I hear that you know all about the plants and the gardens on the church property.”
“Yes,” I said modestly. “I do. I am a member of the UUCS volunteer gardening crew.”
He pointed to a large tree in the memorial garden. “What is the name of the tree that has those lovely rose-colored flowers?”
“That is a Golden Rain Tree. In August and September, it has delicate yellow flowers that “droppeth as the gentle rain upon the place beneath”. I smiled, having slipped a little of a Shakespeare sonnet into my response - at least I thought it was Shakespeare.
Rather than being impressed, he looked confused. “But what about the rose-colored flowers I see now?”
“Oh, no,” I said, “those are not flowers, they are seed pods. I hate those things. They look nice but then they drop into the garden, germinate, and produce a bazillion little seedlings in the late winter. Having no other gardening skills, I am always assigned to get on my knees and pull them out.”
“Well, I like those rose-colored flowers,” said the new member.
“They are not flowers, they are ........ I stopped mid-sentence, looked him in the eye and said wearily, “yes they are lovely flowers aren’t they?”
by Dick Happy
“Why are you staring at the debris bin?” asked Diane, our volunteer garden leader. “Remembering George.” I said. “I received word from his daughter that George Gannett passed away on Cape Cod last Thursday.”
First Diane smiled and then she frowned. “George was one of my favorite people and one of our best gardening crew workers. We were sad when he moved north to be with family. But how does staring at the debris bin help you remember George?”
I chuckled. “Our Tuesday mornings garden crew comes up with lots of big branches and other debris and places them in a bin at the back of the property. When George worked with us, he would cut them up and put them in a very orderly pile. We had the neatest debris bin on the face of the earth! And he was strong - when he was part of our group he was in his late seventies and early eighties and he could outwork much younger members.
George was also integral to the functioning of the church in another way - for many years he helped keep the multi-media booth operational. But most of all I will remember him as a gentle, warm hearted soul with a ready laugh.”
Diane remembered his wife, Joy Erickson, who pre-deceased him. “She also helped out in the sound booth, was a first-rate artist and an expert genealogist. As a couple, they gave a lot of time and effort making our church what it is today.” I agreed and continued to stare wistfully at a very messy debris bin.
Do you see the butterflies?” I whispered in Diane’s ear as we sat in church on a recent Sunday morning. (Diane heads the church's volunteer gardening crew and is my wife.)
“Shh,” she whispered back, "listen to the sermon. You might learn something.”
“But,” I started to respond, before being silenced by a glare from the person in front of me.
I did listen to the sermon and I did learn something. Back home I raised the subject of butterflies again. “There were a number of butterflies flitting around the outside of the sanctuary during the service. I was just trying to tell you how beautiful they were.”
“I know how beautiful they are.” she said, “the yellow Sulphur butterflies look spectacular in the sunlight and I even saw a Monarch. Maybe some Monarchs did hatch out from the milkweed we planted behind the kitchen. But I believe that during the service you can appreciate both the butterflies and the service.”
“You mean I have to multi-task?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “like right now you are listening to me and thinking about butterflies at the same time.”
“What?” I said.
Diane sighed, looked down at her newspaper and sipped her coffee.
"I'm feeling lucky," I said. "And what pray tell does that mean?" asked Diane, my wife and the boss of the UUCS gardening crew, looking up from her newspaper.
"Well, I think we have a really expert church gardening crew and it makes me feel good."
Diane responded, "Oh, you mean Bob who is our orchid specialist, and Pat who knows all about bromeliads. She even knows the Latin names."
"Vini, vidi, vinci" I exclaimed.
Really?" Diane said, "Your ninth grade Latin class? I came, I saw, I conquered?"
But she was ready to name more names. "What about Debbie our excellent pruner, and Larry who takes care of the playground, and Ed who keeps the memorial garden bromeliads in good shape and Darryl our fruit tree specialist. You are right, we really are lucky."
My name hadn't been mentioned. "What about me, I take care of the weed." I said. Diane looked at me with bemusement. "Um, that would be weeds, plural."
"Of course," I said, and headed off to look for the weed er...weeds.
“They’re watching me,” I said to Diane our church landscape chair. I was out by Fruitville Road hacking away at the weeds with my shuffle hoe. ‘Who’s watching you?” she said.“Those green parrots with black hoods that make so much noise. They have nests in the holes of those telephone poles, and they sit and peak out and watch me with their beady little eyes. It is creepy.” Diane seemed a bit exasperated. “Well, first of all, they are not parrots, they are parakeets, Nanday parakeets. They come from South America and are feral in our area”. “Well, “I don’t like them, and by the way, how do you know so much?” “Wikipedia,” she said. “Ah,” I said, “then it must be true.”
“I think that it is time for me to do some educating in my weekly Contact vignette/Blog post,” I said to my wife Diane the leader of our landscaping committee. “That would be a nice change from you running around shouting ‘Jeepers Creepers’”, she responded. I ignored the comment. “People (at least two of them) have asked about the purple plants with the purple flowers along the walkway leading to the Lexow Wing. They are called tradescantia pallidas and we have another species in the memorial garden, tradescantia zebina. Diane looked at me in amazement. “You know the Latin names?”. “Yes, and I can inform you that they are species of the spiderwort plant,” I said proudly. “How did you know all that?” she asked suspiciously. “Oh, I am a rather learned horticulturist,” I said as I walked away while surreptitiously sliding my smartphone into a pocket.
No, we are not talking kings and queens here, just butterflies. While working with our church gardening crew this past Tuesday, we spotted a couple Monarchs flitting about one of the large shrubs near the back of our church property. We were struck by the beauty of their orange and black colors as they spread out against the tiny purple flowers of the shrubbery. And we wondered if they were “our” Monarchs. Last spring we had watched with great (almost obsessive) interest when a Monarch female laid eggs on our milkweed plant, beginning the complex reproductive cycle of butterflies. When the cycle was complete, we felt as if we had been part of a process that launched eleven new Monarchs into the world. This week, lacking evidence to the contrary, we decided that they were indeed “our offspring”. We stood and watched for a few minutes, in awe of the contrasting beauty of the butterflies and flowers. Then we went back to weeding, clipping and pruning.
Last Sunday, the Flame Vine that grows over the arbor at the north end of the Memorial Garden was dangling vines into peoples faces as they walked through the garden to get to the sanctuary. My wife Diane, chair of the church gardening crew, noticed and was visibly upset. “Didn’t you trim those vines yesterday?”she asked with just a hint of asperity. (One might ask how one knows when a hint of asperity is occurring. My answer: after 56 years of marriage, one knows “asperity” when one hears it.) Anyway, I responded that indeed I had done the trimming. Diane looked at me, then looked at the vines. I looked back and shrugged. “Mother Nature,” I said, “her fault, not mine.” It is just amazing how quickly the vines grow during the rainy season, requiring almost daily trimming. Some day I may just sit and watch and see if I can actually see the vines spread their wiry tentacles. Gotta be better than watching grass grow.
Dick Happy, Gardening Crew
From the Garden Gate
3975 Fruitville Road, Sarasota FL 34232
Office hours are 10am to 2pm Tuesday - Friday
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