Loading... Please wait...

Nightcrawlers in Grandma’s Fridge


Catch of the day!

Catch of the day!

When I was a kid, I used to love to go fishing.  My grandparents lived up in northwest Iowa, a block and a half from one of five of Iowa’s “Great Lakes” and my family would go up and visit every summer.  The centerpiece of each of those summer memories is Grandpa and my brother and I going out in Grandpa’s boat to fish.

But it wasn’t just the fishing.  It was getting ready to fish.  We’d have spent a good portion of the night before going out with flashlights in the dark and digging into the soft, loamy soil for nightcrawlers.  Seems like there was a reliably good spot underneath a sprawling maple tree near the fence on the side yard where they could be found in good quantity; fat and squirming and key to a glorious catch in the morning. We’d put them in Styrofoam cups and punch holes in the lids so the worms could breathe and stick them in Grandma’s refrigerator.  Then off to bed, dreaming dreams of landing a Big One.

Loaded with bamboo poles, fresh nightcrawlers, a well-fortified tackle box, a thermos full of Kool-Aide, and oodles of confidence we would set out. It was always an early go because Grandpa knew, as all great sportsmen did, that the fish don’t bite much when the sun gets high and the water gets too warm.  We’d buckle into our sturdy orange life vests, find our places in the boat and motor over to the far side of the lake where the water was deep and the trees gave good shade well into mid-morning.  It was there that we would bait our hooks, drop our lines……and wait.

SM194D by Joseph Jean Peterson

Haitian metal sculpture SM194D by Joseph Jean Peterson

At this point, memory fades a bit.  I suppose there were squabbles between my brother and I over which side of the boat was the lucky side and who had the best/most/biggest fish.  I suppose there were days when there was nothing to squabble about because we didn’t catch anything at all.  But I do know that when they were hitting, it was sheer delight to pull up the line and watch the silvery fish break to the surface.  “How big is it?  What kind is it?  Do you think it’s the best yet?” “Can we cast out for one more?” And as our pail swirled with our catch of perch and sunfish and crappies, we would eagerly anticipate the feast at dinner that night.

Truth be told, I don’t know how many hours it took Grandpa to clean those fish, or Grandma to filet and fry them.  And I probably don’t want to know.  But the patience they forbore, their toil, their tolerance of holes in the yard and creepy-crawlies in the fridge assured my grandparents’ places in heaven.

I still love to fish.  But what I love most is the memories I have of fishing and those yet to be made.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Encouragement for the Reluctant Gardener

One of a kind by Yves Darius #207

One of a kind by Yves Darius #207


If you read my “Peter Rabbit” blog a few weeks ago, you know that gardening does not come easily to me, though genetically, it probably should.  In truth, I am a reluctant gardener, easily discouraged.  I have blamed the rabbits; the rocks, boulders and 7 tablespoons of sand per cubic yard that I am required to accept as tillable soil in my backyard have set me back too. But it was delightfully warm and spring-like early last week and I was fired up, ready to take them on.

I will tell you that I have spent the past two years off and on clearing and cleaning up my backyard. Hacking, digging, pulling and chopping at my veritable jungle of dead, ugly, and weed-like flora with a fearsome gusto, I have at long-last achieved what to my eyes looks like something I can work with and which my husband views as a moonscape.  But now with the deliciously mild weather fairly begging me to begin, I decided that I would lay some irrigation line, dig a few holes, and start planting.

My cutting and chopping had admittedly given us a rather perfect line of sight to the ugly brown slump block brick wall that separates our yard from the neighbor’s. My immediate goal, then, was to put in something leafy, green, and fast-growing that could soften and eventually obscure that view. Full of energy and purpose, I commenced digging.  It took all of 16 seconds before I hit the first rock, but I was undaunted.  With my new pick-axe, I felt invincible and indeed; I pried it out in nothing flat, but there was another one   underneath. A few more thrusts and it too came away, revealing yet another rock – bigger this time.

Rocks and boulders can be a set-back.

Rocks and boulders can be a set-back.

Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going.  I pulled out rock after rock, each one wedging in another just below or to one side or the other.  Oh, and one boulder of mammoth proportions which alone outweighed me three times over. It took some doing to roll that bad boy out of the way. Sisyphus came to mind, but I managed. Two hours later, exhausted but victorious, I was standing in a hole up to my elbows; deep,

beautiful, and satisfying.  The bush I could plant there, why it could be sizeable to start with; full and lush in no time.


RDN253 Garden Tree by Julio Balan

I was so excited! It was only mid-afternoon; there was still plenty of time to run down to the nursery to pick up something to plant. But which nursery?  What plant? Well aware of my limitations as a gardening novice, I called my more experienced friend, Dave to give me some recommendations.  Luck was with me – he picked up on the second ring.

“Hey Dave, I just dug a huge hole in the backyard and I’m ready to put in a bush.  Got any advice?  Where to shop and what to put in? I was thinking of that nursery down on River Road. Would they have anything good?”

“Linda, it’s February.”

“Well yeah, I know.  But it’s beautiful out.  I don’t think it will freeze again, do you?”

“Linda, it’s only February.”

“Well yeah, I know.  But I just dug this hole – it’s all ready to go.  I’m fresh from the fight.  I want to put something in NOW! Whadaya think?”

“Linda, may I remind you that it’s FEBRUARY?  The nurseries don’t even have anything now – it’s too early.  Mid-March is the time to plant here, when the danger of frost has passed. There will be a good selection then, but next to nothing before. Where do you think that hole is going to go?  It’ll keep.”

“It’ll keep.”  What kind of encouragement is that?  And to think, I call that man my friend…


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Owls of a Different Feather

Owl sculpture by Max-Elie Brutus.  Coming soon to our catalogue!

Owl sculpture by Max-Elie Brutus. Coming soon to our catalogue!


Written for  Patrick, because he asked…


Back in October, when I was in Haiti, I was looking at an intricate sculptural depiction of the voodoo ceremony at Bwa Kayman that set off the Haitian Revolution.  There was a lot of symbolism worked into the scene, every detail fraught with meaning, so I was taking my time, looking it over very carefully and asking a lot of questions.  When I spied an owl sitting in a tree, I asked our translator about its significance. Roosevelt’s face visibly darkened as he replied, “Oh owls are bad – very bad. Evil.”  Then, he shook his head, “An owl has powerful black magic. You don’t ever want to mess with that.” I made a mental note to look into it further, and so here we are:

There are two different loas (Voodoo spirits) associated with owls.  The first and by far the most ominous is Marinette, who takes the form of a screech owl and is clearly the one to whom Roosevelt referred. She is believed to have been the Mambo priestess that sacrificed the black pig at Bwa Kayman.  Cruel, vicious, raging, and vengeful, she is greatly feared.  She metes out justice with a powerful, violent hand and possesses the ability to free people from bondage or send them into slavery, at her pleasure. Knowing that after the Bwa Kayman ceremony, slaves slipped their chains to freedom while French slaveholders were slaughtered by the hundreds, it is clear that Marinette is not to be trifled with.

The second loa associated with an owl is named Brise, guardian of the hills and woodlands. Though he appears to be fierce, with large, dark, exaggerated features, he is actually quite gentle and loves children.  Brise seems to be the basis of a widely recognized children’s folktale, which is elegantly retold in English in Diane Wolkenstein’s book “The Magic Orange Tree.” (For more on her book, click here http://dianewolkstein.com/projects/haiti-and-the-magic-orange-tree/ )

In the story, a shy owl encounters a lovely young girl in the woods at night.  They talk and agree to meet again and again and during the course of their encounters, fall in love and agree to marry.  The only problem is that the young girl has never seen the face of the owl and he is afraid to show it because he is ugly.  He ends up flying away, alone, ashamed, and unwilling to believe that he could be worthy of a lifetime of love. The girl eventually finds a new love, but her happiness is forever shadowed by the melancholy of her previous loss. Far from being fierce and powerful, the owl in this story is self-effacing and unsure. Pretty significant contrast, I’d say.

Then on the other hand, across the Carribean and a good bit of land mass are “my” owls; wise and all-knowing. What likely formed the basis for my line of thinking is a simple British poem written in the 19th century that I learned in second grade.  Bet you did too:il570xN264988494[1]

“The Wise Old Owl lived in the oak

The more he saw, the less he spoke.

The less he spoke, the more he heard.

Why can’t we be like that wise old bird?”

How different my impression of owls is from those depicted in Haitian lore! It has nothing to do with the bird itself and everything to do with the stories I was told as a kid. Cultural heritage.  Pretty interesting, isn’t it?


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Cloudy with a Chance of Rain

One of a kind HT2706 by Jean Eugene Remy

It is a blustery day in my corner of the world and the weather can’t seem to settle on any one thing.  Dark clouds sail overhead, opening up occasionally to spill a little rain. Then they scurry on, and the sun makes a brief appearance, not bothering to stay long enough to warm up much of anything before it tucks itself back behind another onrushing cloudbank. There was a saying back in the Midwestern town where I grew up, something along the lines of, “If you don’t like the weather, just stick around for a half an hour.  It’ll change.”  Though I am far removed from there in both space and time, it is an apt description of what is going on over my head at the moment. What kind of audacity does it take to try to predict the weather, anyway?

The audacity of such as Robert B. Thomas, for one, who in 1792 began publishing what was then known as “The Farmer’s Almanac.” By studying solar activity, astronomy cycles and weather patterns, Thomas used his research to develop a secret forecasting formula, still in use today and kept under lock and key in a black tin box at the “Old Farmer’s” offices. Realizing the potential benefit of reliable weather information to the burgeoning agrarian population of the newly founded United States, Thomas set out to create an almanac that, “strives to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor.” In 1848, John Jenks succeeded Robert Thomas’ 50-year tenure and renamed the publication, “The Old Farmer’s Almanac,” reasoning that it had earned the title by outlasting numerous other upstarts who had entered the field and departed again.

Over time, “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” has had its moments of historical note.  Take for instance it’s being cited in the case against William “Duff” Armstrong by his defense attorney, who was none other than

Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln used an almanac to refute the testimony of Charles Allen, an eyewitness who claimed he had observed the crime in progress “by the light of the moon”. The almanac stated that not only was the moon in the first quarter, but it was riding “low” on the horizon, about to set, thus laying to question the veracity of Allen’s statement. (“The Old Farmer’s Almanac” proudly claims their part in the story, and though it cannot be absolutely ascertained that an “Old Farmer’s” was Lincoln’s source, there is little evidence to the contrary, and thereby it remains solidly in the company lore.) Years later, during World War II, a Nazi spy was apprehended with a copy of

“Blowin’ in the Wind” RND298 by Joseph Jean Peterson

“The Old Farmer’s Almanac” in his pocket. From 1943 through 1945, to comply with the U.S. Office of Censorship’s voluntary Code of Wartime Practices for press and radio, the Almanac featured weather indications rather than forecasts. This allowed the Almanac to maintain its perfect record of continuous publication.

And so how good are the “Old Farmer’s” prognostications, made as much as 18 months in advance?  In addition to Robert Thomas’ initial formula, state-of-the-art technologies are now employed in solar science, climatology (the study of weather patterns) and meteorology. (the study of the atmosphere) Forecasts emphasize temperature and precipitation deviations based on 30-year statistical averages compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. By “Old Farmer’s” own assessment their forecasts are 80 per cent accurate, though independent observers have judged them to be a whopping two per cent better than a random guess.

Think it will warm up tomorrow?

Sign up for our newsletter

  • Information

View Cart Go To Checkout