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Lonely for the farm's spring bounty

Fair Oaks Lodge property is a winner, right up front, when it comes to welcoming spring. Our trees, Whisky Creek and its pond on one side, willows and a slough on the other. Shucks, Fair Oaks folks are on a first-name basis with Mother Nature, just as they have been all of their lives.

Even so, I am lonesome. I am lonesome for what was my farm. To me, it was a treasure chest of wonders, if you knew where and when to look. By now, I would know where each new bird household had taken over a bit of property on one of the gnarled old limbs of the willow grove west of our house.

I would have lobbied again (and won!) the fight to keep that 10-foot old box elder stump from being chain sawed down, it is a veritable apartment house, filled with deep holes from which scrawny little heads peer back at me.

In that straggle of trees and brush snugged up close to a wild grass meadow, I picked mushrooms, with wild strawberries hiding down in the grass a month later. A three-foot-deep narrow drainage ditch bisects the meadow. I found it when I fell in the first year we lived there, in 1946.

On the south edge of our pasture is a timber that was not pastured. It did not belong to us, but no one cared that I had a standing love affair with the May flowers that grow there. They are white, pink and lavender. They always looked so surprised when I took the dead leaves off their heads, as though they weren't expecting me. I wonder, did they miss me when I didn't show up anymore? Trilliums and Jack-In-The-Pulpits grew there, too.

Over the west fence of that same pasture the biggest blue violets grew. It was wet there far into the summer, because Milt's knees were always wet after he picked a bouquet for me. His fields were dotted with patches of sod where he tilled around pheasant nests.

Tragedy is not a stranger to our woodland friends, since every creature has to eat. The time a bronze hawk with a white ring around her neck made her nest on a patch of almost bare ground at the far end of my garden and laid two eggs, I tried to help her guard it. Then one morning she flew tight little circles over her nest making agitated cries. Despite our efforts, I found both her babies' mangled bodies 10 feet from the nest. A fox found them. She never came back.

A low place in our pasture held enough water a few weeks into the summer for tadpoles to hatch. What fun my kids had, each with their own quart jar of water, waiting for those first two tiny legs to pop out. A big, friendly garter snake claimed homestead rights under the water tank in our cow lot.

An entire city of swallows built a slew of neat mud nests with tiny round doors under the eaves on the east side of the barn. The years we lived in California we made sure to be in San Juan Capistrano each year on March 19, the day the swallows came back.

I can't believe I have written this much without a mention of Windsor, my pet toad who lived in one of my flower pots for 19 years. Winnie was special. We did library story hours, third-grade classes in the school, and dozens of children's sermons in churches. The year I took him along on a trip to California they said he couldn't go. When I got in line again to board 10 minutes later, they forgot to look up my sleeve. We came home the same way.

The real treasure, the real surprise, is the pink Lady Slipper I found near a patch of scrub willows in the pasture. I could scarcely believe my eyes. What was one lone plant doing, growing this far from the usual habitat of Lady Slippers? No, I did not pick it or disturb it. I have never told anyone where it is nor will I. I hope it is still there. It did not bloom every spring.

Now, one last true story. Several years ago, after one of our short, violent Minnesota spring storms, I was on my way to see what damage had been done to my flower beds when I saw a downed robin's nest in my path. Wild cheeps told me there were victims. It had fallen from the fork in the limb of a box elder tree, 20 feet above the ground. A cat headed our way prompted me to set the nest inside the porch door until I decided what to do. Since climbing had never been a problem, I decided to tie the nest back. A length of twine and a medium sized flower pot with a drain hole in the bottom was just right. Sticking them in the bib of my overalls, I started up the tree.

Everything was going fine, the nest almost attached, when a car drove in. Not just a car, but a long low job that screamed "expensive." A slick citified, non-Oak Valley Township looking dude started up the walk, directly below my tree!

What to do? I would be quiet, maybe he wouldn't see me. Stretching slowly along that limb I felt like Elsa, jungle cat. Then, feeling eyes in his back he looked up, wouldn't you know it?

After looking at each other for a pregnant minute, he said "Hi. Good day to work outside, I guess. Wh-What are you doing with that flower pot up a tree?"

Not ready to miss an opportunity like this, I said," I am setting out our tree pots. It's a little late, we usually have them out by this time."

Slowly, he started edging backward. "Looks like a-a-great idea. Wh-What are goin' to plant?" he said, half back to his car, trying to make it before I could get down.

"Oh, I don't know. Petunias, I guess. Last year we planted moss rose. Don't know if they even came up so I'm not going to do that again," I said, squaring around on what I was beginning to think of as "my limb."

By this time he was up to his car. Reaching for the handle he yanked the door open, threw himself in, and burned it out the drive. I laughed so hard I had to hang on. We never found out who he was, what he wanted, or where he was from.

That evening I related it to my husband. He said, you explained to him, didn't you?

No! Never. And spoil his story? To his dying day, somewhere out there will be a fellow who had a narrow escape to tell his grandchildren, how he barely made it to his car away from an old lady crazier than a bed planting petunias up a tree.

Epitaph: the robin not only came back to her flower pot nest, but returned each spring until the twine rotted off. Rex and Alma McDonald loved this story and took a picture.