Beanery Online Literary Magazine

January 21, 2010

River Song: Part 2



Tim Landy

     Tim’s story is posted in three parts. To read Part 1, click on: River Song: Part 1 . Revisit the Beanery Online Literary Magazine to read the final post of River Song.

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          The subject of this article is a fascinating woman who lives on the line between nature’s chaotic and man’s organized worlds.

            While most gardeners despise the ubiquitous weeds, Joan welcomes these unwanted guests with open gloves.  Smiling, she says, “Everything was a weed at first.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a garden of weeds!  When I go out in early spring, I see everything bare.  I start to plant seeds and I can feel the weed seeds saying, ‘We were here first!’”  

            Her present reading list includes Weeds of the Northeast.  But unlike the authors, who wrote the text to help readers identify and destroy unwanted plants, Joan uses the book as a field guide, locating one of her favorites, the Pennsylvania smart weed, which, to her delight, has taken over the pumpkin patch across the road from the farmhouse.

            “When you give a weed a name, it acquires a new significance,” she muses.

            Joan thrives on the energy and movement she observes in the natural world, noting the “constant motion” of leaves floating through the air.  Pointing to the clouds as they sail through the sky, she emphasizes, “Those are my clouds!”

            “Where I live–on the farm–something is always happening.  Everything grows in Fayette County!” she smiles, as she inspects the leaves of a sunflower.  “Nature seems to be so active!  There’s always action with the sky, with growing things.”

            This same love of nature as an active force is seen in her passion for moving water.  “I love rivers,” she says.  When she was first married to her husband, the late Charles, the coupled lived in Elizabeth Township, along the Youghiogheny.  “I grew to love the river,” whose name, she says, means ‘river that returns to itself.’

            An artist by training and rustic philosopher by temperament, Joan admits the farm has more aesthetic and spiritual appeal than practical appeal for her.

            “I guess I’m a naturalist, if I have to have a label.  I try to combine as much activity as I can within the range of my view.  I can observe my sheep and horses roaming through the fields.  The movement of the sheep in and out of the shelter is soothing; I enjoy the leaping lambs.

            “There is some unexplainable, perfect order,” she reflects, “in the way the geese walk across the pasture with slow dignity.  It makes you stop and think, What orders them?”

            “Joan has always loved animals,” says her sister Elizabeth endearingly.  “She’s always been a gentle person.”

            Speaking of her own role as a sower, Joan says, “I like the spiritual rewards of planting a seed–watch it grow, watch it sprout.  I feel like I’m somehow watching the divine creation.”

            To the casual observer, Joan may appear to have been born with a green thumb.  But her love affair with nature began many years and over two thousand miles away.       

            As a girl, she dreamed of trees:  Trees to play beneath.  Trees within whose cool, leafy arms she might hide.  Trees whose form and beauty she might drink in.

            But when she was growing up in Newport Beach, California—about 30 miles south of Los Angeles—her “front yard was sand and water.”  The only ‘trees’ were those few bushes and shrubs planted by homeowners in this sprawling oceanside community.  “In [Southern] California everything needs to be planted.  They don’t sprout as they do here [in Western Pennsylvania].”

            California “was a wonderful place to grow up. The beach and ocean were a natural playground, influencing my view of nature today,” she recalls.  “But I knew sand would never satisfy my love of the natural world.” 

            Oddly enough, this love of the green world was first cultivated some distance from the sunny beaches of Southern California–in the farmland of Nebraska.  Each year the family would return here to visit those relatives who remained rooted to the Midwest.  Later, when Joan was fourteen, her father took them to visit others in western Canada, where she was struck by the splendor of the wooded mountains reaching down to the Pacific.

            “The first time I saw a forest in British Columbia, it was a moving experience.  I recognized something there that I didn’t feel just looking at sand . . . I felt the excitement of seeing things grow that were untended.”


To continue reading River Song, click on: River Song: Part 3 .

 To make it easier to be informed about future posts, sign up for a subscription in the top of the column to the right.



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