All posts by Laurie Graves

I write about nature, food, the environment, home, family, community, and people.

How Are We So Lucky?

Is it early summer or late spring? The leaves, fully mature, tell a summer story. The weather—thankfully a little cool after an unprecedented heat wave the end of May—speaks of late spring.

Whatever the case, it is a time of beauty. The biting blackflies are gone, and the mosquitoes are few in numbers. We can sit on the patio until six and not be bothered. Not at all usual for this time of year when the mosquitoes are generally out in force. I expect it’s because May has been dry. While we surely need the rain, I am grateful that this weather is keeping the mosquitoes down. Last year, with a cold, rainy June, it was just the reverse, and the mosquitoes came in hordes, tormenting us until fall.

Therefore, at the end of the day, Clif and I relax on the patio with a snack and a drink, sometimes alcoholic, most times not. In the woods, in the distance, a wood thrush sings its ethereal song. Closer to us on the edge of the yard are the goldfinches, tweeting and quarreling. There are woodpeckers and hummingbirds. Cardinals. Nuthatches. Sometimes, from the nearby Narrows, we hear loons. Dragonflies zoom with astonishing precision. Chipmunks race after each other.

Surrounded by the flutter and dash of life, I ask Clif, “How are we so lucky?”

After a few moments of silence, he replies, “We made the right choice.”

That we did. Not always a given as Clif and I are not known for our practicality. But when we moved to Winthrop, we  were debating between two houses—one in a little development and one in the woods.

We chose the home in the woods.

Here are some pictures taken in the last day or two at our home in the woods:

The flash of red, a cardinal at the feeder.

The bubbling of the blue fountain.

A dandelion poking its head up among the ferns.

And finally, the front yard, green against red, edged by many hostas.

For years and years, I yearned for a cottage garden bursting with color. While this love of color will never go away, my home in the woods, surrounded by green, is the place I want to be.


Friday Reading

For love of domination we must substitute equality; for love of victory we must substitute justice; for brutality we must substitute intelligence; for competition we must substitute cooperation. We must learn to think of the human race as one family.  —Bertrand Russell

As is my way, I have been reading a lot of pieces and articles in various publications to try to make sense of what is going on. Reading is no substitution for acting, but for me, anyway, it is an important first step. I might never succeed, but I at least want to attempt to figure out why things are happening the way they are. And what might be done to make our society a better, fairer place.

Below are some samples of what I have been reading.

From Vox, here is Terry Nguyen’s  nuanced take on looting: There Isn’t a Simple Story about Looting.

Civil disobedience is frenzied and chaotic by nature. People who take to the streets might not all share the same beliefs: Some protesters are looting out of the same anger that drives the protests, and other looters are not protesters at all. But because it’s impossible to untangle every person’s motivations and intent, it’s much easier to lump them all into a group to create a narrative of the event that fits our understanding.

Not surprisingly, President Obama writes clearly and beautifully about protest and change.  From Medium here is an excerpt from his piece How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change.

The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Finally, from my blogging friend, the inimitable Cynthia Reyes, who has put together an excellent list of suggestions and reading for those who want to go beyond expressing sorrow over all that has happened. (Full disclosure: One of my blog posts is featured.) The title of her post is 8 Specific Actions We Can Take. I’ve been making  my way through her suggestions and links.

I started this piece with a quotation by Bertrand Russell.  On the face of it, his words seem a little woo-woo, nice to read but not exactly a stern call to action. If it had a flavor, you might call it vanilla.

But think, for a moment, what kind of world we would have if leaders all over followed Russell’s advice.

Not perfect, which is impossible, but oh so much better than what we have now.

And despite the  seemingly bland flavor, very, very difficult to achieve.


Cracking Open

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.   —Desmond Tutu

The first six months of 2020 have been a doozy. Just when we think it can’t get any worse, it does. After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I felt something inside me crack open.

I might be old, I might not have much influence or money, but I can’t sit back while our country careens out of control from one horror to another.

I have decided to become involved with the Poor People’s Campaign, an organization dedicated to “Building a movement to overcome systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy.”

A friend of mine has volunteered with the Poor People’s Campaign for a couple of years and has told me about the good work they do. She has heard Reverend William Barber, the organization’s  founder, speak in Portland. (Awhile back, I read a profile of Reverend Barber in the New Yorker, and I was impressed by his devotion to civil rights.)

Change doesn’t happen by itself. It takes hard work. It takes organization. It takes many voices.

I have decided to be one of those voices, however small.

I have had enough.


A Shift in Tone

As I sit at my desk, I can hear the summer rustle of the new leaves as a soft wind blows through them. The leaves are nearly full size, and in a month they went from the red fringe of delicate flowers to yellow to a soft green and now to the deeper green of maturity.

Being of a fanciful nature, I usually stop to listen when the leaves rustle. It seems to me that they are talking, and if I listen hard enough, I will understand what they are saying as they tell the story of trees and woods and animals.

There are other stories around the yard in late spring.

Of lilies of the valley,

of dandelions,

of unfurling hosta leaves,

of chives ready to bloom,

of a little kingdom through the metal circle.

But there are other things to think about, too, and nowhere near as pleasant as the beauty of spring. Recently there was yet another brutal murder of a black man in police custody. In response, there have been protests. And riots.  Once more, the lid flies off the pot because the pressure has become unbearable.

2020 seems to be the year that keeps giving. Or taking, depending on your point of view.

Pardon me for the shift in tone, from rustling leaves to the murder of a man.

But there it all is, the sublime and the abominable.

I can’t look away from either.



Taking Stock: Over 100,000 Deaths

As the grim title of this post indicates, covid-19 has killed over 100,000 people in the United States. The sorrowful weight of it presses down on me, and my heart is heavy. And rightly so. With no vaccine available and places opening all around the United States, it is likely the death toll will continue to rise. How far? To 200,000? To 500,00? Who knows?

Whatever the case, a staggering number of people have died of it in a short time.

Eliza Mackintosh, of CNN, puts it in perspective:

In less than four months, the novel coronavirus has killed more than 100,000 Americans — more than in Vietnam, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan combined.

It is a story of lost mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, spouses and even children. An even bigger tragedy: They didn’t all have to die.

Stephen Collinson, also of CNN, expands on this:

A Columbia University study released last week found that had the US started social distancing a week earlier, it could have prevented the loss of at least 36,000 lives.

In the New York metro area alone, 17,500 fewer people would have died if the US had acted one week earlier, Columbia epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said.

Shameful. Yet recently on Facebook, a friend of a friend commented: “The cure cannot be worse than the disease… We must resume to live.”

I wrote back: “The cure is worse than death? For the 100,000 people who have died of covid-19 in this country? For the many, many more who will surely die as standards are relaxed?”

An argument ensued, and nobody’s mind was changed.

All the while, our president has put the coronovirus in his rear-view mirror, as though the virus is a pesky driver that can be passed and left behind. Onward to the 2020 election, which appears to be what is chiefly on the president’s mind. Suffering and death? Not so much.

There have been glimmers of hope. Not every country has behaved as stupidly as ours has. As the writer Umair Haque writes, “New Zealand… didn’t just flatten the curve. It ‘crunched’ it, as epidemiologists say. Do you know how many people died of the virus in New Zealand? Just 21. Twenty one….That’s a stunning accomplishment….Sure, New Zealand’s a small country. But being a big country doesn’t give you a license to just watch helplessly as thousands die. That’s just a rationalization for negligence.”

Can the U.S. learn from New Zealand and its admirable prime minister, Jacinda Ardern? Again, who knows?

Despite my heavy heart, I live in hope.

On the Wall by My Desk

From time to time, I get cards from friends near and far. Usually, the cards have gone on the door of our refrigerator, where I seldom see them because most of the time I am working on my computer. Therefore, I decided to get a metal bulletin board to put on the wall by my desk. That way I could easily glance over at the cards and  admire them.

The bulletin board came in last week, and Clif put it up for me. When it comes to reading measurements, I am terrible at judging how big something is. This bulletin board was no exception, and it’s a little smaller than I would like. Clif suggested I get another one the same exact size and hang it above the current one. I just might do this.

In the meantime, the board is big enough for the four cards I have recently received and are very dear to me.

The one on the far left is from my blogging friend Jodie in honor of our dear dog Liam, who died two years ago. This card both made me smile and brought tears to my eyes.

The card just beneath it is from my blogging friend Jill. The picture was taken of a tree in front of her house. She wrote, “The pecans were just leafing out—they are the last to get leaves.” Such a lovely description.

Right beside the Liam card is a sweet, delicate water color by Dawn,  yet another blogging friend. On the back she wrote, “Enjoy the little oak.” I surely am.

Finally, the last card is a humorous one, sent to me by my long-time friend Dawna. Although the message is humorous and a reflection of how an everyday commodity became scarce during the early days of the coronavirus, the message inside was heartfelt: “Miss You!” We only live about five miles apart, but we have not seen each other for months. I miss her, too.

I, too, have been sending cards, pictures of flowers taken from my garden. I joke that I am sending flowers through the mail.

Now it is my turn for generosity. If you would like a flower from my garden, let me know in the comment section, and I will send you one, no matter where you live.

During this dark time, getting something lovely or funny is such a comfort.


A Couple of not too Bad Pictures of a Hummingbird

Two weeks ago, on May 9, it snowed in Maine. Here is the picture to prove it.

Today, in the shade, the temperature was over 80° Fahrenheit, probably 85°  in the sun. What a difference two weeks can make in Maine.

This afternoon, I was going to divide and move some hostas but it seemed too hot to do this, both for me and the plants. I will go out tomorrow morning and tackle those hostas. (Frances Williams, one of the hostas, is a formidable plant to divide, especially now that I have arthritis in my hands, knees, and feet.)

In truth, the whole week has been warm but not too warm to take a picture of this cardinal,

and this little red squirrel peeking out.

And finally  a couple of not too bad pictures of a hummingbird.

Again, I will keep trying to get better pictures.

Stay tuned.