Where did the summer go?

My grandchildren built this fairy house while we were at dance camp this summer.

In my mind, I have written numerous entertaining and insightful observations all summer, but according to WordPress, I have not posted anything at all since Memorial Day. How could that possibly be? It seems like no time since the students left town last May. Now all 35,000 are back, looking younger and more scantily dressed than ever, and fall is fast approaching.

So many things have happened in the past few months that I wanted to share, and it is almost impossible to go back and tell it like it was. But here’s a sampling:

  • In June, the 17-year cicadas emerged from the ground and nearly drove us all crazy for several weeks, flying wildly into everyone in their mad race to the tree tops. (I didn’t get a chance to try the cicada ice cream at Sparky’s before the health department shut down production.)
  • My older son returned safe and mostly sound from his third deployment in nine years and immediately took up motorcycle racing. (As though I didn’t have enough to worry about.)
  • My father blacked out while behind the wheel and crashed through an intersection, hitting four cars and totalling his own. (He is now under “house arrest” for six months until the doctors make sure his new pacemaker is working properly.)
  • We had to move our bee hives (or thought we did) when predictions started coming in of a “flood of historic proportions.” (The Missouri river is still running high and fast, but we have had little rain all summer, and the field where the bees had been never did flood.)
  • We got word that our office will be merging with another office on campus.
  • I read a ton of books and almost managed to capture that magical feeling I used to get as a child when I was in the “Busy Bee Book Club” and would read all summer long, out on a blanket in the yard or up in the crotch of a tree or on the front-porch swing or in the musty reading room in the public library.
  • My husband and I took two of our grandchildren (age 13 and 11) to dance camp in Nancy, Kentucky, not knowing how these millennial kids would respond to a week filled with nature walks, square dancing, traditional games, crafts, and no TV or video games. (Turns out they loved it and want to go back next year!)
  • I let my garden fall into a terrible state of disrepair. (One good thing about winter is that it gives me a chance to start over again.)
  • We shopped at the farmers market and happily ate everything as it came  into season. (We’re enjoying peaches and corn on the cob right now, but we know they won’t last much longer. The winter squash is already starting to make an appearance.)
  • We went blueberry picking on a hot sunny day.
  • We danced in an old general store in McKittrick, outside on the grass at a Civil War reenactment in Boonville, and in the community center in Hallsville.
  • I’m looking forward to a quick trip to Portland, Oregon, next month to visit my younger son before he heads back to Antarctica for the second time. (He’s going fishing, he says.)

Memorial Day Weekend

I planted these roses years ago because they reminded me of the climbing roses my grandaddy grew on the fence surrounding his vegetable garden in Georgetown.

Amazing how fast a three-day weekend can go. Yesterday was warm and sunny and breezy. I spent a fair amount of time writing and waiting for my son Matt to come online, which he did around 3:00, but he has not been talkative lately. One of his friends last week stepped on an IED in Kandahar province, where they have been deployed for the last year, and got both his legs blown off. His name is Gregg, but I don’t know any more about him, how close he was to Matt, what his rank is, what job he was assigned, where he is from, where he is now, whether he is married or has children, whether Matt was nearby when it happened, or anything else. Matt said to ask him in a year how he’s doing; right now he doesn’t want to talk about it. I hope some day he can talk about all of this or find some other way to deal with it.

His grandfather Ralph, who was at the Battle of the Bulge and also with the troops when they opened up the first Nazi concentration camp, never wanted to talk about his experiences of war. The only hint of what he had seen was a brief poem he wrote once with images of blood on the snow after a battle. I wish he were here now to help Matt through the mindfields of life. There are so many amputees and brain injuries from these most recente wars. It is horrifying. Of course, the soldiers who are featured in gee whiz news stories are those who fight to walk again, with the aid of fancy new spring-loaded prostethics, and who go right back into the war zones to demonstrate, I suppose, how brave soldiers can be, leaving the others, who are justifiably bitter and angry about their injuries, feeling like lesser men, weaklings, when they can’t just buck up and carry on. On this Memorial Day, I am thinking of those who have died in war, along with their friends and families who have suffered such tragic loss. I am praying that some day we humans can find a better way than war to solve conflicts.

I got a little bit of work done in the garden this weekend, but I need to finish up. The main thing on my list is to find places for the new plants I bought recently—eight new perennials and about the same number of annuals (tomatoes, basil, lantana). I deadheaded the daisies and pulled up some of the chives around the mail box, until the ants came pouring out of the ground carrying their eggs everywhere. I also pulled out the asters that were growing over the surprise lilies, but I need to decide how many asters to leave and then cut those back, so they won’t get so out of control this year.

Apparently, you can cut asters back until July without affecting the fall bloom. I’m not sure which of the asters has spread the most. I have three kinds out there—one that blooms in September, one in October, and one in November. Maybe this year I can pay attention to which ones have replanted themselves all over the yard. I also need to figure out how many of the blackeyed Susans I want to leave. They really took off last summer and have almost filled the circular space in the center of the yard, which I used to call the butterfly garden, when it had more variety of plants. I picked some more brocolli and strawberries. Even though I am nowhere close to self-sufficient, it makes me feel good to grow at least some of my own food.

My roses are looking amazing this year. I have never had this many buds and blossoms. Always before the deer have bitten them off just as they were about to bloom. I’m not complaining, but the deer have been scarce this year. A couple neighbors even planted hostas right out in the open, and those are still looking lush and green. We have seen a couple deer in the back woods, but they have not (so far, at least) been a problem in the front yard. Maybe I’ll actually get to grow tomatoes for a change!

It’s been a strange spring in other ways. While cleaning out the gardens, we have found literally hundreds of acorns and dozens of small oak trees sprouting. I don’t know if the trees had a bumper crop last year, or if the squirrels forgot where they buried their stash, or if the snow covered the ground for so long that animals that normally forage for acorns (like deer, perhaps?) could not get to them, or what, but I don’t remember ever having to pull out so many oak trees. Fortunately, the spring has been wet, so the trees have not been too difficult to pull out. The yard next door has a forest growing in the front. The neighbors moved out some time ago, but there has been no for-sale sign and apparently no one maintaining the house and yard.

It’s been about a week since people started talking about the cicadas emerging from the ground where they have been lying dormant for thirteen years. The last time these red-eyed cicadas were around, Isaac and I were at scout camp in Arkansas. In fact, that year (1998) was the first time since 1777 that both the 13-year and the 17-year cicadas were out at the same time. It was certainly loud enough, especially when you added the annual cicadas to the chorus. (or perhaps I’m remembering the 400 screeching boy scouts!) From what I’ve been reading, the periodical cicadas generally emerge in May and stay above ground through June. After they emerge from the ground, their shells harden and they move up into the trees, where the males congregate to “sing.” After mating, the females cut slits in small branches and lay their eggs. When the caterpillars emerge, they return to their underground burrows for another thirteen years. What a life! Apparently, they do little damage to mature trees, so I don’t need to worry about anything, with the possible exception of my lemon tree, which I should probably cover with cheesecloth. If I liked to fish, I could use them for bait. Here’s more about the periodical cicadas.

We went out to the bee yard again last evening to put on the new supers Jim has made. They look so beautiful, with their fresh white paint, and the new frames with foundation all ready for the bees to draw out creamy white comb. I love the smell of the fresh wax foundations. I suppose the new plastic foundation they have been selling lately is more convenient than having to wire the frames for the wax foundation, but I don’t like the plastic, and we have had trouble getting the bees to draw out comb on the few plastic frames we have tried. We looked briefly in all the hives but did not see the queens in any of them. They all had good patterns of brood, though, with eggs and larva in all stages of development, including plenty of capped brood, so we think the queens are doing well.

One hive, though, has had numerous queen cells for about six weeks, so we’re not sure what they are doing, but it seems to be distracting them from collecting honey, even though there is plenty of clover in the fields right now. We think that hive swarmed earlier in the summer, and they appear to have a queen, who is laying eggs, but they also have several capped queen cells and a couple queen cells with larva and royal jelly. Not sure what’s going on in there, but they did not need one of our beautiful new supers. The new hives (the swarm hive and the split hive) are doing well and seem calmer. The hive we have dubbed the “mortgage lifter” is collecting honey like mad, so we have not looked very far into their hive lately, since they seem to be thriving. The old angry hive, which may have swarmed and which we also then split, is still somewhat defensive. When Jim was checking them, the bees kept bumping against his hands in warning but did not sting. I stayed back aways while he worked that particular hive, with my hands in my pockets, just in case.

After we left the bee yard, we went to Coopers Landing for beer and Thai food, but we had to park about a mile out and walk on the MKT trail to get there, because the road was covered with water. Some people ignored the signs and just drove on the trail to the landing. We had a very pleasant walk along the river and stopped to take a couple photos of the high water. The landing was crowded with people, and we had to stand in a long line in the camp store to get our beer and then in another long line to order our Thai food from the trailer out back, but everyone was in a festive mood. Every picnic table was filled with people; some had brought their own lawn chairs. A band was playing rock and roll, people were hula-hooping, boats were running up and down the river, children were riding bikes around the trails; the colorful umbrellas over the picnic tables were fluttering in the breeze.

After we ordered our food, we joined our friends Krishna and Eric at a table up above the loading dock and talked about plans for the upcoming Cumberland Dance Week, which we are all attending in July. Several men in a fishing boat motored by; one man stood up in the middle of the boat and raised up a huge catfish to show off. People at the landing cheered, and the boat circled and then headed up the river. By the time we finished our food and headed back down the trail to the truck, it was dark. Lightning bugs were flashing and the frogs were singing as the river rolled on.


photo of stage at Missouri Theater with True/False logo projected on screen

Inside the historic Missouri Theater in Columbia, MO

It’s been a week since the eighth annual True/False Film Festival was in town, and I’m still enthralled by the magic of it all. I had been looking forward to the festival for quite some time. We ordered our passes back before Christmas, and a couple weeks before the festival weeknd started, we went online to select the specific movies we wanted to see. Then Tuesday night we stood in a long line outside the box office to pick up our passes and tickets. It is like a big city-wide party, where people from all over the world show up to watch these amazing documentaries that cross the line between true and false but always have strong storylines, interesting characters, beautiful cinematography, and which usually bring attention to people or places or events I haven’t heard of or thought much about before.

Paul and David and others on the film-selection committee do an amazing job selecting films for this festival. Each year, several of the documentaries shown at True/False or Ragtag Cinema end up being nominated for and often winning Oscars, which makes me proud of being from such a progressive town (as though I were personally responsible for this great festival). There is always a fair amount of stress and consternation during the somewhat complicated system of buying passes and reserving tickets, with different pass levels (Gold, Silver, Lux, Simple) having assigned times when they can go online to reserve tickets, but the instructions on the festival website are clear and good humored. This year people who weren’t sure they wanted to invest in an entire weekend of movie going could  purchase a three-movie pass, and there are always a limited number of single tickets available for those who don’t want to buy any kind of pass. Still, for first timers, it can be confusing. The disappointment generally comes when people realize that having a pass does not guarantee that you will get into all the movies you wanted, because people with higher pass levels get to select their movies first, and some of the venues are quite small.  We have probably all experienced the disappointment of seeing the films we carefully selected going “NRT” (no reserve tickets) as we are ordering tickets.

This year we had a Lux pass, and I logged on the very minute we were able to reserve tickets (along with hundreds, if not thousands, of others who had the same Lux passes). I had done my research and had prepared a detailed list of first choices and alternates in case those were sold out, and I clicked through the list quickly and got all my first choices, but then, being the compulsive conscientious person I am, I thought I had better review my selections to make sure I had clicked the right buttons, and immediately one of the first films went “NRT,” so I panicked and hit “submit” before anything else became unavailable. Still, I think that hype is part of the fun. I know that even when I don’t get tickets to the all the films I think I want to see most, I can hardly go wrong. Every one of the films is worth seeing, and there are always other options, even after all the tickets have been reserved.

photo of lines of people waiting to get into movie

Lining up for a film at the Missouri Theater

You can almost guarantee there will be tickets available to the films in the larger venues, such as the Missouri Theater. Also, people reserving tickets often overestimate how many films they can actually take in during one weekend or they forget to leave time  in their schedules for, say, meals, so there is a good possibility there will be seats available even when all the tickets were reserved. To take advantage of that situation, you just need to navigate the infamous “Q” system, which actually works very well. An hour before the film you want to see, you go pick up a number, and then fifteen minutes before the film starts, you stand in the “Q” and wait until they call the numbers and hope you have a low enough number to get one of the remaining seats. If all else fails, some of the better films will be brought back later in the year and shown at the Ragtag Cinemacafe. And some, but not all, will eventually be released on DVD or through Netflix.

This year I deliberately avoided choosing the films most likely to depress me, unlike last year when I saw far too many films about environmental disasters, or previous years, when I saw too many war stories that made me worry even more about my son, who has been deployed to war zones during three of the eight film festivals so far. Still, it’s hard to know from the brief descriptions and the single images what the films will be like; sometimes I just have to trust Paul and David. Over the years, some of the films I thought sounded okay but not great turned out to be among my favorites—like Murder Ball, which was about a paraplegic basketball team that was brutally competitive and broke down all stereotypes about disabled people. When members of the basketball team appeared in the theater after the film, the audience erupted in applause. This year I probably would have skipped the film called Buck, thinking I don’t care that much about horses, except that it’s the one chosen to show in the Missouri Theatre after the Reality Bites reception and thus, almost guaranteed to be a winner.

The festival no longer has one big opening film that everybody goes to (with 40,000 people in attendance, the festival has gotten much too big for that), so there will be four or five other films showing at the same time, but by its placement in the schedule, Buck is getting special emphasis, so I definitely want to see what it’s about. Another one I might not have chosen just based on the description is the final film, Life in a Day, which was constructed from thousands of short clips taken all over the world on the same day in July 2010 and then edited into a coherent film. That should be mind boggling and visually stimulating. I also deliberately did not choose any films that start after 10:00 p.m., knowing I would be bleary-eyed and overstimulated by then. Even with a fistful of tickets to thirteen films in four days, I was only able to see about one-fourth of all the films showing during the weekend. In addition to the films, there are always parties and receptions and parades and workshops and all kinds of excitement going on around town that I am also not  able to take in. But I love mingling with all the people downtown, greeting friends who are among the 700+ volunteers helping run the festival, marvelling at the wacky and creative costumes, hearing people talk about their favorite movies, listening to the musicians who are brought in from all over the country to entertain us while we stand in lines or wait for the shows to start, feeling the sheer creative energy that is focused downtown each year at the border between winter and spring, and enjoying the very postmodern experience of watching so many people carrying around cameras to film the festival itself.

Here are the films I saw this year, which you should definitely watch for in theaters near you:

  • Benda Belili
  • The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
  • Buck
  • North From Calabria
  • Wisconsin Death Trip
  • Secret Screening White (I can’t tell you the title; we were sworn to secrecy until after the official release)
  • Project Nim
  • Page One: Inside the New York Times
  • The Woman with Five Elephants
  • The Pruitt Igoe Myth
  • Life in a Day

I enjoyed them all, but my favorites were probably Buck, The Woman with Five Elephants, and Page One. From snippets of conversation heard around town, I missed many other excellent films, which I hope to catch at a later date.

photo of large puppet at parade

Puppets and costumes abound at the March March down Broadway