Jun 192020

Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens 1962

June 19, 2020 — My father mourns. He is a man of the earth, a man who all his life had a front-row seat to the seasons of growth—a man who takes joy in every new corn stalk, or much-needed gully-washer. Now nearly 90, he lives in a senior facility. Because of COVID-19, Dad is in lock-down, unable to go beyond the facility campus.

He wants to see corn growing in the heat of the Hoosier sun. Dad gave us running commentary on the crops, on car trips when we were children. Planted late? Was the ground too wet? Did we need rain, desperately? Desperately was the word Dad always used.

My father mourns the loss of what he always had, watching Mother Earth. My brother, who lives nearby, wanted to take Dad out for a “tour” of what the song “Back Home Again in Indiana” calls the fields he used to know. With my brother driving, Dad’s gaze could note every detail, the sky with airplane trails, corn not yet knee-high, farmers growing things.

Now from his first-floor window, Dad sees the roses he planted years ago. Dad can no longer care for them and complains to my brother about an errant weed. Mother Earth will do what she will do; Dad believes it is our responsibility to tend crops, animals, flora, and fauna.

Dad has now outlived both his parents, his wife, all his siblings, even two of his nephews. His childhood was challenging because of multiple early losses. His family lost their farm in the Depression and moved to another farm with poorer soil. Born with a clubfoot, Dad had numerous surgeries, staying without family for weeks at an Indianapolis children’s hospital. His father died of heart disease when Dad was only four years old. The second farm, where Dad lived until age 16, had no electricity. Circumstances forced the family to move to town only a few miles away. Dad’s small universe completely changed for the better. No more chamber pot and outhouse. No more windmill-driven well for water.

Physicality wasn’t Dad’s gift, having been born with a club foot. His gifts came from his intellect, his ability to share his passions with others about agriculture. Some of his teachers noticed and encouraged him. With the assistance of State Vocational Rehabilitation, Dad graduated from nearby Purdue University as the first in his family to attend college. He became a vocational agriculture teacher and spent nearly four decades encouraging farm kids to their best. After retirement, he managed my mother’s farm, 420 acres he cherished.

Fifteen years ago, in the small town where they lived near the family farm, my parents needed help. My mother had dementia. There were no family members within 90 miles, and medical services were limited. My parents made the difficult choice to move into a retirement center near my brother in Dad’s college town.

Mom lived for seven more years, and Dad cared for her until her death in 2012.

Dad has no fear of death, no fear of tragedy. Been there, done that. Now at the end of his life, he’s lost the vision in one eye and suffered two heart attacks.

When my brother and I were children, Dad took us on Sunday afternoon walks. In every season, we walked in the woods beyond our neighbor’s house, on a narrowing lane that reached a wooded area. Dense trees surrounded a pond full of bullfrogs, turtles, and the occasional water snake. Dad could identify almost every tree by its leaf.  He was rarely stumped, and if he was, he looked in his worn copy of “50 Trees of Indiana.”. Dad would pull down a branch and slice it open with his pocketknife, showing us how the water and nutrients moved inside. He also frequently tested our knowledge. Is this an oak? A maple? Is this a sycamore? No real Hoosier ever missed a sycamore.

Dad’s passion for nature passed on to his children, though in decidedly different ways. My brother made a career in agriculture, selling and devising animal feeds and volunteered for community agriculture organizations, as my father had before him.

I inherited Dad’s love of nature. I used my camera and words to capture what my senses learned of the natural world. During any season, under a brilliant blue sky, a farm field, or a wood, or a garden can offer sublime beauty. In the spring, fields are wet. Only a hint exists of what is to come as farmers turn over the fertile, dark soil for planting in summer, plants raise themselves to the blinding sun, yearning for rain, whispering for a small breeze. By fall, crops are ready for harvest, the green of summer gone, autumn colors cascading.. Each season has its beauty, even a faded sky over a stark, snowy field.

Daily, Mother Nature’s sun gives us a chance to recharge,  to fill our empty cup. Even in dark times, nature offers abundant richness. We are reborn each day on our trip around the sun, and we can choose to see what gifts lay before us. How to understand and appreciate nature is a gift Dad gave to my brother and me. I ache for Dad that he cannot see the growing things this summer, and I pray that soon he can enjoy the pure pleasure of a car trip to watch Mother Nature in full glory.





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