Flowers marking the passage of spring

A woman named Verna built my home and lived in it for more than 30 years. My neighbor tells me that a few years before she fell ill and died, she landscaped the yard. The house became a rental for several years after that, and her beds got little love from tenants. When I moved in, one of the first things I did was give them proper care. And while I’m not a huge fan of digging in the dirt, I haven’t been able to resist adding flowering plants of my own.

Spring is my favorite time of year anyway, but I love it even more because of the flowers in my yard as they come and go. My mom gave me my grape hyacinths; they are first to emerge.

Grape hyacinth
Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

I bought a single regular hyacinth plant to go with them. They emerge and begin to blossom at about the same time.

Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

While the hyacinths usually come up first, my daffodils are always first to show color.

First color
Canon PowerShot S95

Here’s one that has fully opened. When my daffodils open, I know spring has fully arrived. It’s one of the best days of my year.

Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

These Lily of the Valley are relative newcomers to my garden. Mom dug them out of her garden before she moved from our family home last year, and gave them to me. The little blooms don’t last very long.

What are these?
Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

I can’t decide whether I look forward more to my daffodils or my peonies. Verna planted three prolific peony bushes. I always cut the flowers as they bloom and bring them inside, filling my home with their fragrance. The flowers don’t last very long — a few days, whether left on the bush or cut and placed in water. The aged flowers don’t just wilt, they rot. The bushes bloom for one to two weeks.

Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Ektar 100

Another latecomer to my gardens, another plant from Mom’s former garden, is this evening primrose. It blooms as the peonies are finishing up.

Evening primrose
Canon PowerShot S95

I know spring is about to fade into summer when the day lilies come up. They keep blooming all summer.

Nikon F2AS, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

My tiger lilies are always the last to bloom, usually just after the first day of summer. My friend Dani gave me these.

Tiger Lily
Nikon N60, Quantaray 28-80mm, Kodak Gold 200 (expired)

I have other flowering plants in my yard, but these are my favorites. And they’re all milestones in the arrival and passage of spring, my favorite season.

Stories Told

Gleich aus Deutschland zurück, 30 Jahre her

I spent my 16th summer in Germany. I was in an intensive language-immersion program through Indiana University that gave me a stunning command of the German language. I came away so fluent that even though I’ve had little call to speak German in 25 years and have forgotten a lot of vocabulary, when I encounter a native German speaker I can still make myself understood.

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Me drinking beer in Krefeld

This was also an exchange program. I lived with a kind and patient family in Krefeld, a town in western Germany near the border with the Netherlands.

It wasn’t all language instruction; we did touristy things too. We visited cities all over western Germany and spent a week in Berlin. We toured castles, churches, and breweries, and took a boat trip down the Rhine River.

The trip was a defining time in my life. It gave me perspectives on the world that I would never have gotten otherwise. I had a lot of freedom there and learned both how to handle it and that I was inherently trustworthy with it.

This summer is the 30th anniversary of my trip. This is about the time I returned home, and so I’ve been reflecting on my time in Germany lately. I’ve written about the trip many times before, and all week I’ll be sharing the best of those posts again. I’ll also tell some stories I haven’t told before.

To whet your appetite, here’s a gallery of some of the best scenes from my trip.

I wasn’t much of a photographer in 1984, but I’m sure glad I have these photos now.


Finally appreciating autumn

Work has been consuming me lately and it’s left me with less time to write. It’s time for my annual meditation on autumn, but this year I’m getting this 2010 post out of the archives and running it again.

The coming of autumn has always made me grumpy. It means winter is around the corner, and I hate winter. But my ill temper was no match for last year’s drop-dead gorgeous autumn. It made me realize that all my life, as soon as the temperatures cooled and the leaves turned, winter began in my mind. Living in the future, I missed the joys of the present.

I trace my anti-winter bias to my kidhood. Autumn meant returning to school, relegating summer’s fun to memory. It’s funny how our youthful attitudes can linger long past their usefulness, but I still feel free in the summer and burdened in the winter. I’d rather wear shorts and T-shirts than layer sweaters and heavy coats. I’d rather mow the lawn than shovel the driveway (especially after shoveling my way out of the Blizzard of ’78). I’d rather open the windows than turn on the heat (and pay the bill).

But I’m finally able to enjoy autumn’s beauty, and it’s great.

Autumn at Turkey Run

My newfound appreciation of autumn can’t supplant my love of spring and summer. I will probably always feel a little sad the first day I have to wear a jacket and the first evening I drive home from work in the dark. But maybe I’ll accept these changes more easily now.

I am still going to hate winter, though!

One of the most satisfying photos I’ve taken is of an autumn sunrise. See it here.

Stories Told

Bike rides and ice cream

I enjoyed this summer more than any summer in recent memory. I took plenty of walks, visited plenty of places with my camera in hand, spent plenty of evenings on the deck reading, and took plenty of weekend day trips.

1986 Schwinn Collegiate
My 1986 Schwinn Collegiate

The one thing I didn’t do until just the other day, however, is ride my bike. I’m not entirely sure why I waited so long. I love to ride my bike, a vintage 3-speed. Last year I even had it mechanically restored. But then we had the hottest summer anybody could remember, and I hardly ever rode it because the extreme heat robbed rides of all their fun. It was often dangerously hot for a bike ride. So you’d think I would have been chomping at the bit to get my bike out this year. But fortunately, when I finally got it down and blew off a year’s accumulated dust, it rode as great as it did when I got it back from the shop.

The DQ nearest my Terre Haute home. Dig that great sign. Michael Ray photo.

Riding my bike was one of my great childhood pleasures. I lived on my bike when I was a kid! And as a young adult I used to take rides all over Terre Haute, where I lived then. There must be more Dairy Queens per capita in Terre Haute than in any other U.S. city, because I could easily pass two or three on a single bike ride. Well, except that I usually stopped at one of those Dairy Queens during the ride, and headed home sucking on a chocolate malt. So much for the calories I burned!

So what did I do on my first bike ride of the season? I rode two miles to the Dairy Queen nearest my Indianapolis home, naturally.

I rode so much as a boy that I had legs of steel. Read that story.

Stories Told

Frozen glue

A rerun, from 2010.

For ten minutes one afternoon in 1986, I thought I had killed a little girl.

I worked my 19th summer for my aunt Betty’s delivery service. Her small company shuttled papers, packages, and supplies  for industrial clients all over northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan. She did a good business with maybe a half-dozen drivers and an assortment of cars, vans, and straight trucks. She issued me an old Ford Pinto for most of my runs, but I got some experience driving the vans, too. Most of her vans were new heavy-duty Fords tricked out for delivery, with rub rails in the cargo area and a wall behind the front seats. She had an older van, too, a used-up, rusty regular-duty Chevy that lacked the wall and rub rails. It sat idle most of the time.

Betty’s biggest customer was AM General, which designed and built the Hummer for the US military. They used a particular glue somewhere in assembly, and it was kept frozen until needed. Betty’s company delivered the glue from the supplier, a company called Artificial Ice. All the pro drivers were on other runs one day when AM General called so Betty sent me, the driver of last resort. And all the Fords were on runs so I had to drive the unloved Chevy, the van of last resort.

I drove to Artificial Ice in downtown South Bend and loaded 25 80-pound buckets of frozen glue into my van. It was a hot day, so frost on the buckets immediately began melting into puddles on the van’s metal floor.

I headed out with my thawing 2,000-pound payload. Seven miles lay between Artificial Ice and the Hummer plant in Mishawaka, all on one long road with many stoplights. It took a long time for that loaded van to get any speed. Stopping that much weight was a real problem, too, as I learned when a light changed to red and the van plowed through the intersection as if my braking were a suggestion.

I was treading slowly and carefully across South Bend’s east side when a little girl stepped off the curb right in front of me. This was the first time I experienced how time slows down in a crisis. I was able to think, “I’m about to kill a little girl, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” sink my foot into the brake pedal, and gasp as I watched her take that first step away from safety.

Unfortunately, the bucketed glue was traveling at 25 miles an hour on a nearly frictionless surface. Wham! Buckets slammed into the back of my seat. As I felt the wind leave me, I watched the passenger’s seat pop off the floor, smack the windshield, and bounce around along the tops of some of the buckets.

I managed to get the van stopped. Still trying to get a breath, I hopped out to look for the little girl, but she wasn’t there. I even checked under the van, because with all the excitement in the cabin I wasn’t sure I would have felt it if I had hit her. She had simply vanished.

I sat for several minutes, shaking, until I was sure the urge to vomit had passed. Then I crept at ten miles per hour the rest of the way. To hell with the cars honking behind me.

I was still very shaken when I pulled up at AM General’s loading dock. The guys there steered clear of me and unloaded the glue without a word. They laid the passenger seat on its side in the cargo area, but didn’t ask me about it. Betty didn’t send me on any more runs that day. She never had the passenger seat reattached.

Personal, Photographs

Not squandering summer

Mr. Blue Sky

Summer begins when school ends. It’s so in my middle age as it was in my childhood, but only because I have children. Otherwise, I would neither know nor care when school ends. I wonder how I’d know it was summer.

As a boy, I knew how to get the most out of summer. It wasn’t deep instinct or calculated action – summer came, and I got busy in it. But as an adult, sometimes I barely notice summer among the worries and the work. Then the boys go back to school, the leaves start to turn, and I become angry that I didn’t do more with the warm-weather days.

My sons live with me half the summer, alternating weeks between their mom’s and here. Good heavens, do I love the summer schedule. Last week was the first week of summer and I had it to myself. After work, I resisted the pull toward chores and bills. I spent my evenings outside doing things I wanted to do, in shorts and and a t-shirt, my dog always with me. One night I drove around in the country, enjoying a golden sunset, Gracie looking out from the wayback of my wagon. Another night we went to Broad Ripple, a funky, walkable Indianapolis neighborhood. We took pictures with a new old camera and enjoyed the attention a guy gets when his dog is on the leash.

This week my sons are here. After I’m home from work I’m trying to not squander our evenings. There’s more structure and more to do when they’re here – more laundry, more cooking, more cleanup. But we’re making time for a stroll through my little neighborhood after dinner, or we’re driving to the park to hike along the river, or we’re sitting on the deck talking, or we’re going for ice cream.

I’m not letting this summer get by me. No, not this one.