Letter from Birdland | Two legs, four legs, sea legs! | Travel


It’s still warm in Birdland, but I got up early to enjoy the morning cool.

My friend Brian gave me tomato plants. He warned me they would be long, and they were. I had worked on a Hugelkultur mound. I spread cardboard on the grass and piled wood on top of it. We lost an elm many years ago and the stump was still slowly rotting. It came loose as I tried to roll it over my cardboard, but eventually I got it all back there. It’s best if the wood starts to rot, but any wood will do, as it will eventually rot. I also piled up sticks that had been blown from the trees. On top of that, I had spread some old hay.

My mound was just waiting to be covered in compost, and that was my task this morning. I got out before 7 am, and it was about 77 and overcast. A breeze made him feel a lot cooler, though, or maybe he just couldn’t see the sun. I opened the third bin of my three-bin composter and raked the rich, brown soil into my wheelbarrow. Back and forth, back and forth, I went until I completely covered the mound. But by then the sun was higher and the clouds had burnt off. I came home for breakfast and decided to plant my tomatoes tonight.

Still, in my mind, I thought about how I would plant them. They really look more like vines than plants, all about 3 feet long on stringy stems that couldn’t support themselves. Brian plants a huge garden every year and had already filled his bed with tomatoes. These were simulating around the house under his grow lights. He didn’t know what variety it was, except for one. It was in a larger pot and had a strong, upright posture, a bumblebee cherry tomato, which has yellow stripes. I’ll put that one in my victory garden in the horse trough.

The rest I will lay on my new Hugelkultur bed and cut off all but the tallest branches. Then I’ll bury those long, long stems.

My Aunt Jane taught me how to plant tomatoes sideways with just the top sticking out. Stems will produce roots, and the more roots there are, the stronger the structure will be. Just think how many roots will nourish those tomato plants in a lush compost bed!

We just got back from a quick getaway to Lake Erie. It was a bit of a reconnaissance trip. We went to see a man about a boat. The boat is in a beautiful no-frills marina. For about ten years, we have taken a weekend to sail on Lake Michigan or Superior. It’s pricey, but my husband thinks it’s worth it, and I shop around. Michael grew up sailing, but I still have sea legs. We’ve never sailed on Lake Erie, but hope we enjoy it, because now we’re committing.

When I told my Uncle David that we were thinking of buying a boat, he told me this old chestnut: The happiest day in the life of a boat owner is the day he buys the boat. Until they sell the boat, and then it’s the best day of their lives.

I replied with my own joke: You know what a boat is, right? It’s a hole in the water that you pour money into.

We visited this boat in early spring when it was on stilts. Now we were going to test it in the water. But to be honest, I think I was already sold when I saw all the cranes, pelicans, loons and mallards.

We spent one night on the boat moored at the dock, but we will take it out as soon as the paperwork is completed.

But for now, just sit in our gently rocking boat, organizing all the lockers and small spaces.

We sat on the deck and made plans for next weekend when we would bring the dogs. We’ve already bought them the essentials, a ramp (which to be honest was a good idea since they can’t get in the car anymore), a leak proof bowl, life jackets.

We’ll spend another weekend rocking gently by the dock with the dogs to let them get their sea legs before heading out into the sunset.

Navigate in style; Sail in peace; Be blessed

Mary Lucille Hays teaches writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Zhejiang University in Haining, China. You can see photos from this week’s post on Instagram @BirdlandLetters. Mary can be contacted at [email protected] or by postal mail c/o Journal-Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856.


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