Wednesday, December 16, 2020

For all of this, we are grateful.

With all the limitations and change this past year has presented, we might be forgiven for losing sight of so much we still cherish.

As Elderberry approached the holidays, knowing our usual calendar of parties and gatherings would be missed, it seemed a perfect time to find other ways to remind ourselves of all we have to be grateful for.

So a plastic box holding strips of bright colored paper and several permanent markers was installed on the cabin porch, and the berries began recording their thoughts.

From these, a beautiful chain of gratitude was created, for all to see, read and reflect upon. 

We touched many themes! Food, of course. Our community, love, family and friends. Our companion animals. Life surrounded by the beauty of nature. Our spiritual paths. Awareness of political and social change. And of course a few random offerings!

Starting with food, of course:

Peanut butter fudge (recently prepared by Mary for the community to celebrate national fudge day)

Good food (we do miss our regular potluck dinners)

Eggplant and sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes were mentioned twice, due in part to a great harvest by the garden goddesses)

Craft beer

Snickers candy bars (written with gratitude to Mary Kay for this year’s Halloween candy bowl in the Hive)

Our community, love, family and friends:

All the “berries” were mentioned by name, including Dick (who passed away earlier this year) and Miles, our six year old neighbor! Our former members were also remembered.

Our goodnight tradition

Someone with whom I share the journey

Laughter with friends

This community 

My sister

Volunteers of the community

Great parents


Dear friends

The love shown to me

My family 

Our companion animals: 

Lucy dog

Cats (I might add several who like to make zoom appearances)

All the love from community dogs

Four-legged berries

All the Elderberry dogs and cats, past and present

My four-legged friends

The beauty of nature: 

Our evening sky (yes, the sky plays a big part in our lives, day or night) 

Night sky & stars

Night stars (another drawing - our artists have been busy)

Winter stars

Rainbows (no words, simply a drawing in color!)

Butterflies (another lovely drawing and tribute to Jacquie, our Monarch mother)

Woods & trails

Zinnias (with drawing) 

Zinnias (mentioned again, this was clearly a banner year, with color everywhere)

Early morning walks when no-one is around or up yet 

Water sounds over rocks (some of us like to hike in silence to hear the woods)

Stillness in woods

Yellow bellied sapsuckers

Bird songs in the garden (some of us bird “by ear”)





Our spiritual paths: 

Human kindness

Any open heart/my open heart

All the combinations of random events that have favored me

God’s blessings

The examples set by others that challenge me

My guides



All the times my mis-steps have not been fatal

Good luck


My health (mentioned twice) 

Awareness of political and social change: 


Joe Biden

Women’s movement

Our new president

America, a second chance

Trump lost

And a few random ones! 


For worms to help the trees grow (contribution from Miles!)


Finding lost tools (this is a funny story — I’ll tell you in person if you ask)

Bug repellent!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Lands Capers and Workers!

 Before our twice-monthly work days, we sometimes get a landscaping update from Richard (you saw one here as a past blog). He usually has suggestions for potential tasks, so we decided to combine his epistle with some photos of last Saturday’s work day. 

Hi, Neighbors

The fall colors this year have been mixed. I thoroughly enjoyed the early bunches of leaves dropped in the circle by the Mighty White Oak. Yellows, flame orange and bright red, sometimes in clusters falling next to each other. A welcome surprise from an oak tree. Perhaps another sign that our signature tree is doing better. It certainly looked more healthy by the fall than it did in the spring. We will continue to limit erosion and let natural processes condition the soil under it.

The Three Raketeers! On work day these three set to work raking up all those beautiful oak leaves and twigs.

Linda gets the last bit of the leaves on the path between the South Quad and the Common House.

Jacquie can attest to the Mighty White Oak having Mighty big piles of leaves. 

The Scarlet Oaks, on the other hand, were disappointing. Not their year. But, as if to compensate, the Sweet Gum stepped up. They went through their own color show, capped by the brilliant reds still lingering at the intersection of the Pedway and EB Lane.

A flock of small birds burst from the Swamp Sunflowers as I walked down the Pedway just days ago. Now I have to restrain my impulse to clean out the bed. I admit to being as greedy for the seeds as the birds are, collecting whole stalks and stripping the heads into places in the bed where Sunflowers, Sneezeweed and Goldenrod have not yet taken hold.

We still have one shrub blooming. It is Sea Myrtle, a type of aster, not related to Wax Myrtle or Crepe Myrtle which is not even native to this hemisphere. You can see large ones along the edge of the woods west of EB Lane and a couple east of the stock barn.

Everyone should be anxious to get outdoors again after this rain, and our next work day will be a great opportunity. Saturday will be brisk and partly sunny. The landscape committee needs to collect the irrigation donuts and gator bags. Karolyn and Ayn will do that and then go on to harvest zinnias.

I will work on clearing around the Old Apple Tree with Mary Kay. The south end of the EB Lane bed is a good place to weed.

The compost yard is ready for your input. So bring it on.

Any other suggestions?

Richard didn’t really have to ask. There were plenty of other suggestions of work – from excavating a new South Quad path (Mary) to spraying vinegar on weeds in the pedway (Vonda).

The log cabin has been a favorite project for years! Indeed, for more than a century before we got here. But now it’s our turn to make it weather-tight again. Karen has been learning the art of chinking and patching some very old logs.

One of the purposes of our all-purpose room is exercise. Here we’re swapping out one piece of equipment for a better one - and getting a little exercise doing that! 

Probably just like most of you, we too have surplus exercise equipment. This piece was stored unused in the log cabin until Stewart and Joyce helped it on its way to the Habitat for Humanity store.

Even when work is fun, it’s more fun to take breaks! This was a socially distanced midday break in the sunshine.

Not all the work was outside. Down in the Woodshop, Mike has been building a small wall that will eventually serve to hide the bins of party decorations that we have stored in a loft above the Media Room in the Common House. Saturday Mike put parts together in the Common House.

Nobody relaxes as well as a cat! Arthur’s already looking forward to taking breaks during our next work day! 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Ugly Day

I confess, I've always loved lousy weather —

cold gray days when most people are inside doing normal things 

like reading, or cooking, or cleaning out closets.

It's been raining all day, the temperature dropping. I'm stir crazy. 

Time to put on my chicken boots, grab my iPad and head outside with a plan to find beautiful things on an "ugly day."


As it turns out, my neighbors Vonda and Cecil also don't know when to come in out of the rain either! Instead, they're repairing a fence post in Cecil's raised bed out front.

Down to the gardens

I’ve become quite familiar with the gardens since moving into my Elderberry home five months ago. I’m inspired by “common gardener goddesses" Vonda and Karolyn. 

I’m a newbie, mostly pulling weeds. I’m finding a second vocation 

however as mechanical fix-it person — mending fences, 

improving gates, whatever! I find surprising gratification in making 

things beautiful and more functional!

Karolyn’s dog Lucy looks forlorn as I walk past her 
along the pedway on my way to the gardens. 
“Are you going to the garden without me? I’m bored as well!” 

This patch of collards is old, but still lovely with drops of moisture 
collecting light on large, blue green leaves. Not too long ago, 
our gardens were so dry, I’m still very happy to see rain drops everywhere.

I’m a graphic designer by profession, and so a sucker for color! 
Orange was my favorite color as a kid, so I’m still attracted to this riotous combination of orange on the marigolds. Color is more vivid with rain, as the colors brighten and the gray skies flatten contrast, a perfect reason to walk along the flower beds on any rainy day!

I wish you could have quietly walked up with me to this adorned fence! It burst apart with small, forked-tail birds that took flight from their invisible hiding spots as I approached. I’ve always loved silhouettes and these dried vines are lovely, their random pattern contrasting against the rigid pattern of the fence.

Vonda and Karolyn planted “three sisters” this year in the summer garden. Corn stalks grow first to support the beans, and then the broad leaves of squash grow to shade and protect the soil around all three. Native Americans used this technique. I love this spent mass of plant confusion left here, partly for the history behind it.

Down the lane and back

Continue along Elderberry Lane past the community and gardens and you approach Bel Cielo, or beautiful sky, a quiet open meadow edged by forest, and the entrance to the Potluck Luck trails at the woods’ edge.

Today, Bel Cielo is gray and close and intimate with rain clouds. The rain has flattened the view, so the pattern of trees stands in stark contrast along the sky’s edge. In summertime I often walk here in the late evening to watch the sunset, or meet friends for a socially distanced Saturday night wine-down.

Today I’m surprised to find our neighbors chickens foraging through the meadow. I must have spoiled their fun as they headed off back to the woods as I approached. There’s something delightful about their grouping and regrouping, as they move along. I took several images as they made their exit.

This is the view as I turn back towards Elderberry. A gently curving dirt road always pulls on my imagination, and reminds me, “walk slowly, enjoy these woods.” I recall the Mary Oliver poem, When I Am Among the Trees, maybe you know it? My favorite line, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.” Indeed.

Such an abundance all around, I can become blind to the small discoveries. I almost walked by this “window” along Elderberry Lane, until I recognized the late blossoms of honeysuckle. When I walk before dawn brings enough light to see what surrounds me, I instead recognize the blooming honeysuckle by their sweet, heavy scent. Summer has arrived! 

Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill serves honeysuckle sorbet from blossoms painstakingly gathered by hand. This view also reminds me of that beloved May tradition.

Closer to home

There is so much to see walking along the trails and paths, 
you can be forgiven for not looking up! But looking up across the curve of Elderberry Lane from the gardens presents this spectacular view of the old white oak that shades our central circle. 

Don’t you wish we could hear these lovely old trees tell their histories? What might we hear? Maybe take just a moment of silence...

Closer to home and hive

Under the oak is one of three entrances to our "hive", the community building we built, literally, when Elderberry was just forming. This is a path I take multiple times a day, to the kitchen, our laundry room, maybe the multi-purpose room. It’s much quieter, with Covid restrictions, as are so many parts of our lives right now. 

I’m aware of the change in seasons as one last spot of brilliant yellow remains near this entrance. What you might not see is the tidy black shape of Panthe, Linda’s solid black cat just beyond. We trade turns watching each other. One day while working in the small grove of trees by the parking lot, I turned around to find her under one of the cars watching me, almost invisible except for her yellow eyes.  Much the same color as the mums.

Something as mundane as a car windshield might seem a little out of place here. However, rain has transformed this common object into something worth a second, or third, or multiple look! Each raindrop is a small curved reflection of light and color, repeated again and again. On nicer days I watch the ripples on the pond at Potluck Farm playing the same game as the radiating circles reflect the sky, woods and water around it. In the sun!

Garden eggs are not easy to grow for a beginning gardener. 
As I was packing my posessions, having recently moved out of both my office and home in town, I discovered many small caches of rocks, collected from my travels and hikes. I’ve been slowly returning some of these rocks to the woods as I hike, but some are simply too lovely and full of memory to part with. So, they are now "planted" in my little garden in front of my home.

My weeders’ dilemma. Yes, it’s a weed, but it’s incredibly beautiful to me, especially with water jewels. To pull, or not to pull?

The deeper story

I hope you’ve enjoyed my exploration to find beauty in an ugly day. Before I end this, a little deeper background to this story. 

Earlier in the day, I could feel myself sinking, contemplating and worried about what the future held for all of us. Last summer, I found myself in a similar place, in a more serious way, floundering. Once I pulled through, as we all do at some point, I decided to make a list of what I needed to remember when I found myself starting down this path — ten suggestions to make a positive change in my outlook. I affectionately call this my "personal manifesto". 

Suggestion number eight was good advice from a dear friend, presented to her at a recent workshop. “When I start to feel low, just making an initial effort creates energy for positive change.” 

Thank you, be well, and keep looking for beauty every day.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Lands Capers

Richard is chairperson of the Elderberry Landscaping Committee. Many community members thoroughly enjoy Richard’s skill in beautifying Elderberry, as well as reading his wonderful reports! 

Here is the latest update from the Landscaping chairperson:

Good morning, Neighbors.

This Saturday we have another opportunity to make Elderberry even more beautiful.

It is working! We are keeping ahead of the weeds and adding opportunities, and nature is responding with blooms and flutterbyes.

The Sneezeweed has arrived and is great! Even the South Quad has a volunteer, which in its lone perch is spectacular.

And we are blessed with displays, on our property and all along the roads, of what Mary B calls Ditch Daisies. They are actually Bidens aristosa. If you aren’t politically inclined or if you have a dog who walks through the flowers after they’ve gone to seed, you can also call them Bearded Beggar Ticks. Meg has a stunning bed in the common ground west of her unit.

Soooo slow, but I believe by the next note, that the augustifolia (swamp sunflowers) will be blooming (finally). They are tall this year, drooping over the pedway and nodding in the heat. But they cannot hold out much longer. The shorter days will force them.

And in yet another note we cannot fail to mention the Scarlet Rose Mallow. It just keeps blooming. Some of those plants must be 8’ tall, and not a marsh in site. Now they even have a response from the Pedway Bed. Wait until next year to see who blooms most. I must admit to cheating. More than 10 have been planted from south quad cuttings in the pedway bed this year.

But we do work for it and several small beds do need attention. Nothing is overrun, so pick a buddy and walk around, look at the raised beds beside the walk from the circle to parking lot, at the river oats bed below the south quad, at the tree plantings, or walk the EB Land bed. Only after the first hour are you allowed to get distracted and sit down and weed and seriously talk.

Speaking of seriously, we have a dead and very likely termite infected tree behind the small pack house. It is only a standing trunk, not small yet easy to bring down. The question is, what do we do with it. Logs on the ground are even more attractive to termites. Cecil has made an excellent point when saying that fires are a part of nature, but if we pile up brush and logs in the woods – that is not. It is dangerous to the forest and to our homes. Some time ago, we decided that periodic burns, if scheduled allowing for short term changes due to weather, were what we wanted. The first notice after that decision met an objection. Since then no one has come forward to manage the fires. We have no burns, that is, so far, no controlled burns. So if we cut the log down – where does it go? Do we hire someone to truck it off to the landfill?

Consider coming to the Landscape Committee Meeting, Monday, September 14 at 4PM. We will talk about all this and anything else. And, please, pay attention to our plants. They are new; everything is changing, and we need to respond.

Good compost to you (it’s available),