Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

Morning & Evening Sun

The birds begin early their warning, warming songs. A pair of robins supervise as I water the tomatoes and peppers, and sprinkle the morning's coffee grounds on the compost. The nest is still hidden, or is yet to be built. I cannot remember when the cedar sprouts twigs and strings and the mouths of baby birds. Now and then, a grub in the soil: fat and soft and luminescent in the light. A curl of possibility, a mouthful for the featherlings, a brown June beetle, wrapped in April's cloak.


Spring is creeping in, the burn-downs are mostly finished, the green sprouts across the prairie, the rocks are small islands, anchorings in the green and black bottomed seas. Woody stalks rise, masts from sunken ships, no leaves to catch in the evening breeze. We come home smudged with soot, the windows rolled down, music and laughter pouring out into the dusk.


Today, a gift. Three small bags stuffed with handfuls of sedum. And another filled with several clumps of daylilies. An afternoon spent up and down on the rocky slope, planting. Tucking in green among the stones. The balance and give of the body, the muscles' stretch and contraction. Being able to dig and plant, to work.

To remember for a moment and then, forget again, illness, constraint, inability. To pick up where one once left off, to see what has gone on growing without tending: the blooms of the periwinkle on a grey cloud day with new sprouts reaching and rooting, new clumps of lemon balm, and the tightly curled leaves of the hostas rising through the dead leaves' litter.

Comforted by Home

One of my favorite authors is Willa Cather. She loved to write about place and the idea of home. I've recently finished her Shadows on the Rock which is a snapshot of a young girl's life during the late 1600's in Quebec. Her attention to place is amazing as always. I feel as if I'd like to visit Quebec to see if anything of the world she describes still exists:

Directly under his feet was the French stronghold,--scattered spires and slated roofs flashing in the rich autumnal sunlight . . . Divest your mind of Oriental colour, and you saw here very much such a mountain rock, cunningly built over with churches, convents, fortifications, gardens, following the natural irregularities of the headland on which they stood; some high, some low, some thrust up on a spur, some nestling in a hollow, some sprawling unevenly along a declivity. (4-5)

The detail in which she describes the Apothecary's home, is rich in such detail as well. There is a love of sensual detail, a way of evoking even the smallest item to demonstrate that the house is more than mere lodging but a home-place which echoes the traveler's original home in the heart of France. Even in the wildness of the primitive settlement of Quebec, with the right reminders of a more gentle life, home is created.

Shadows is a tale of diaspora, the Father always longing for the home left behind; the daughter looking forward to a life created in the land where she's grown into a woman. Hope and despair are the two faces of the coin; the old and the new, where we've been and where we are . In Willa Cather's novel, the best of the old life completes the new through patterns of actions, through simple household objects, "all the little shades of feeling which make the common fine," "le persil" on the windowsill, the rug on the floor, tradition: what we cannot help but carry with us.


See also:
Willa Cather Archive at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Hands in the Dirt

Off to the nursery twice this week, once to replace the lavender plants and add pale purple bacoba to the mix by the driveway. Once for veggies and marigolds plus strawberries and red nasturtiums, an unexpected selection by my 11 year old son.

I am Mini Muscle-Man, he said, as he attempted to carry the 50lbs of potting mix from the store. He wants to paint pots, or add stickers, and next, grow pumpkins. Moving, halfway through the summer, there would be heartache of leaving behind the promise of such autumn pleasure. I convince him to choose zucchinis with a harvest date well within our stay: stir-fry, zucchini bread, zucchini casserole with tomatoes and cheese, and a special trip in October to pick pumpkins from a farm field. This is fine work, compromise, to find accord, to trade one dream for another, to promise together to be happy with the choices made.

Early in the year, we spread the compost on the bed for my small garden. As we turned it again yesterday, the dirt was dark and crumbly with much worm-sign. Room for roots to spread, however short the season. Tucked into the damp soil, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini planted to feed us, and festive orange and red marigolds to repel unwanted invaders. No matter how small, a garden is a commitment to water, to weed, to taking better care of ourselves and our earth. What grows here? Hope.

Last Frost Date


There and Back:

According to the plant nurseries, this weekend was the last expected chance of frost for Kansas. The flowers, in small pots and 6-packs, smiled beside the roadways. Grocery stores, hardware stores, and random gravel lots all sported spring's glad colors. Spicy marigolds, pale petunias, leggy vinca, and the promise of many backyard gardens' bounty: peppers, tomatoes, summer squash.

Also along the roadside, winter's damage to the trees: broken crowns, downed limbs, and log piles. Evidence of saws and sledges and splitting wedges, even as some plant in anticipation, others remember and prepare for the wind, cold, and ice that seemed ever present for many long months.

Home Again:

Raking back the leaves reveals lemon balm along the slope and new plants in profusion. Where little else deigns to grow, the lemon balm spreads fragrant leaves. Even though I live well within the city limits, a small grove of trees graces my life. The birds are chipper this morning; a mockingbird sang his serenade this morning through my bathroom window. I am grateful for open windows in the morning, for small green leaves, for another day of to be alive.

Small Pleasures

  • clean sheets, warm blankets, cozy Italian greyhounds, and the sounds of my husband rustling about in the kitchen
  • the tempting smell of morning coffee and the feel of a perfect pot-bellied mug's warmth against my palms
  • watching Pride & Prejudice with a friend: five hours of dancing, costumes, and fine horseflesh
  • the particular way that lemon and poppyseed drop-cookies form tidy circles in the heat of the oven
  • the lovely contrast of pale yellow of the dough with blue-grey poppy seeds
  • the process of cutting circles of parchment paper with pinking sheers to layer in a tin with the freshly baked cookies.
  • the promise of home-made cookies for an after school snack later this week.
  • the windowsill parsley pressing its leaves against the sun-lit glass as against a lover
  • the click of mahjong tiles on the kitchen table and my teen-aged sons' patter
  • a steaming bowl of mushroom soup
  • evening sun on my face as I wash up after dinner
  • piling onto the bed with my youngest son and two dogs to watch a movie all cuddled up.
  • the tactile pleasure of reading a library book in an edition published in 1950 with soft, rounded, edges of the worn paper (and enjoying the book, too)
  • monolith (what a word!)

May you, too, be so blessed.

Draft: Insistent, The Rain

Insistent, the Rain.

Now:         a time for rain,         for roots.

The cedars lose their powdery-greyness

        for green,

a process


from day to day.

        Until comes a morning

and the jay and wren, framed in

        wet window-panes,

perch in fluffed garments

on bright,
        drenched and dripping,


Spring is due any second now, the daffodils are in-bud, but waiting for more sunlight before they trumpet the news. Yesterday, our first "earthworm morning" with the spring rain and thaw flooding the tunnels and sending dozens wriggling for the surface with the certain particular smell that the combination of earthworms and wet earth exude. And tiny little leaves settle on the spirea , the salvia has turned green again, another month to see if the fall's project of splitting & transplanting the lavender yields an abundance of spikes for the bees, or another trip to the greenhouse.

It is time too, to say goodbye to these small rituals. I didn't think to mark the last fire in the fireplace, the last snow, the last snowman in this front yard. We are due to pack boxes and dismantle this life for the next: the next post, the next borrowed house, the even more temporary quarters of a school assignment. And then another: undetermined, undefined. The worlds begin to touch and intrude one upon the other, the world of possibility, of change, of adventure. But reaching out, the comfort of this home slips away into the past. I am looking for grace. I am always learning who I am, who I might be.

I turn the soil, rake out the fallen leaves, add another day's grinds to the compost pile. I think of tomatoes and gourds, and perhaps a pumpkin vine for the enriched soil. And wonder if the robins will return even though their nesting tree was broken in this year's storm. The red-bellied tomatoes will be a gift, to whoever comes after us. And I have half a summer to watch for their yellow trumpets' heralding.