A Paean to Black-Eyed Susans

blackeyed susans-1Do you love black-eyed Susans? Or do you think they’re so common as to be basically weeds? My attitude has changed dramatically in the past few years; I used to think they were okay, but a bit of a nuisance. Now I see that they meet my basic specs for a great flower AND they have deep symbolic meaning for me!

We live in far upstate New York, closer to Montreal, Quebec, than any sizable American city. Summer here is pretty short so we may appreciate our gardens more than people who live in more temperate climates. Spring is downright exciting, when we can catch the first glimpses of growth!

We need flowers that are hardy and put on a show for the time we can enjoy them. And, as descendants of frugal New Englanders and French Canadians, we like perennials because they come back and we don’t have to buy new ones every year! And, if they spread and give us more flowers for free, even better!

I’ve written elsewhere about the historic flooding of Lake Champlain that occurred in spring of 2011. We had owned our house on the lake for a few years and had been working to fix up the house and gardens. We had all kinds of pretty things—lots of hydrangeas, mature lilacs, coneflowers, coral bells, foxgloves, and more.

Spring arrived. All the plants looked great. Then the water rose. Not a flash flood, like could happen on a river, but an inexorable, slow increase and a much slower return to normal.

Our lawn and gardens were underwater, not just soggy but under inches of water, for 6 weeks. And, as you can imagine, almost everything died. The lilacs bloomed above the water for one last time, and died. The climbing hydrangea, which had finally started to take off, died.

Everything died. EXCEPT three kinds of plants. Day lilies, hostas, and black-eyed Susans. Three plants that I had never given much thought or appreciation to before but that have, since that flooding, achieved a special place in our landscaping.

All three of these kinds of plants are easy to love but the black-eyed Susans make me the happiest. They spread like crazy so we dig up big spadefuls and plunk them down anywhere we want more color. They bloom for a long time, in late summer, when so many other flowers are looking tired and faded. They are so relentlessly cheerful that it’s hard to not to smile when they smile at you.

Two spadefuls, newly plunked.

Two spadefuls, newly plunked.

And they made it through the flood and flourished. And so did we. After a lot of hard work, our home looks better than it ever did.  I used the word “paean” in the title quite intentionally. I don’t know that I’ve ever used that word in a sentence before but, meaning a “song of praise or triumph,” it seems most appropriate here.

I praise the humble black-eyed Susan because it triumphed. It was resilient and patient and came back strong and cheerful. Who could ask for better attributes in a flower?

Or a person.

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How Crocheting Saved My Life

IMG_1773Okay, so that title is an example of hyperbole. Crocheting didn’t save my life but it certainly saved my sanity during a really trying period of my life!

All of you with a creative outlet know how important that outlet can be in times of trouble. When you’re under stress and your brain is working overtime and imagining the worst, having busy hands and a project that needs concentration can distract and calm you.

And that’s what crocheting did for me. I didn’t crochet before and I don’t crochet anymore. I honestly don’t really enjoy crocheting (sorry to all who love it!). But I needed it.

Here’s my story: My husband and I had just moved to a home on Lake Champlain in upstate New York. Three weeks after we moved in, Lake Champlain reached record high-water levels and our house was surrounded by water. We had to leave and leave pretty fast.

The lake isn't supposed to be on this side of the house!

The lake isn’t supposed to be on this side of the house!

We spent 6 weeks in a tatty motel. Our cats spent 6 weeks in cages at the vet’s. It rained relentlessly and the flood waters kept inching up and we didn’t know if the whole house would flood but we knew the basement and garage were full of water. We could get to the house but only in hip waders.

Yes, a boat in the driveway.

Yes, a boat in the driveway.

One of the worst aspects of this was that we had nothing to do. We don’t really care about TV or movies or shopping. There are only so many walks a person can take in a day. So we sat around the motel and worried ourselves sick.

And that’s where crocheting came in. I needed something to distract me and crocheting seemed to be the simplest solution—after all the supply list is truly minimal. All I needed was one crochet hook and a ball of yarn and my trusty iPad, for instruction.

I spent 6 weeks obsessively learning one crochet pattern. I found a pretty picture of a 16-circles square on the Internet and set out to learn it.

This was the picture that inspired me. From http://undisthreadness.blogspot.com/

This was the picture that inspired me. From http://undisthreadness.blogspot.com/

Because I had no background in crochet or reading the language of the patterns, my progress was really slow and really painful. BUT it took my mind off all the other painful worries and focused me. And I finally learned to make the squares and made enough of them to out together a decent-sized throw.

And this is what mine looked like.

And this is what mine looked like.

And I’m happy to report that by the time I had enough squares to stitch together, we were back in our house! We didn’t have running water for weeks, because the well and the septic system were completely compromised, and pretty much every shrub and perennial in our yard died a horrible death. We had scum all over the garage and black mold growing up the walls, but the flood waters had not made it into the main part of the house.

Now, two years later, everything is groovy. The house and gardens look great again and we love living on this beautiful lake, when it behaves!

I tried to keep crocheting but, somehow, I just can’t get into it. It’s as if it served its purpose and now I can move on. But I’m keeping my crochet hook . . . just in case. Has your form of creative expression helped you through a difficult time? I’d love to hear about it!

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