Saturday, July 31, 2021

My pal Hal

 For a couple of years now I've occasionally shared an essay by the late naturalist writer Hal Borland here on the blog. Yesterday I got a comment from Neil (Yorkshire Pudding) asking me if there was any evidence that Borland was strongly religious as he had such a feeling for Nature and the passing of the seasons. I had never considered the question and my first impulse was to say no, that he was not, but I decided to do a little internet research to see. I didn't recall ever seeing any mention of religion in his writings. 

Here's the quick Wikipedia summary of his life and work:

Harold "Hal" Glen Borland (May 14, 1900 – February 22, 1978) was an American author, journalist and naturalist. In addition to writing many non-fiction and fiction books about the outdoors, he was a staff writer and editorialist for The New York Times

Borland was born on the plains in Sterling, Nebraska, to Sarah M (née Clinaburg) and William Arthur Borland. When Hal was 10, the family moved 30 miles south of Brush, Colorado, where his father staked out a homesteader's claim on the prairie. Hal later detailed his experience on the homestead in his book "High, Wide, and Lonesome." After proving out on the homestead claim, his father sold the homestead and bought a weekly newspaper in Flagler, Colorado, where Hal finished his school years. This experience is detailed in his book "Country Editor's Boy." After attending local schools, he studied at the University of Colorado from 1918-1920, majoring in engineering. While there, he held jobs at the Denver Post and the Flagler News. It was during this time he realized his true calling was as an author, and he soon moved to New York where he studied journalism and graduated from Columbia University in 1923 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature.

Borland started writing as a journalist for publications such as The Denver Post and the Flagler News. While attending Columbia University he wrote for the Brooklyn Times, the United Press, and King Features Service. After graduation Borland worked for a variety of newspapers across the United States, eventually settling in Philadelphia and working for Curtis Newspapers, the Philadelphia Morning Sun, and the Philadelphia Morning Ledger from 1926 until 1937.

In 1937 Borland began writing for The New York Times, first as a staff writer for The New York Times Sunday Magazine (1937-1943) and then in 1942 as an editorial writer for The New York Sunday Times, a position he held until his death in 1978. While at The Times, Borland began writing about his experience as an outdoorsman in a series of editorials that were later compiled into two books. He wrote similar pieces for the Berkshire Eagle (1958-1978), Pittsburgh Press (1966-1978), and Torrington Register (1971-1978).

Borland also wrote short stories, poetry, novels (including westerns under the pseudonym Ward West), biographical novels, non-fiction, articles for a variety of magazines, and one play.

Awards and honors

Borland was married twice, to Helen Alice née Le Bene until her death in 1944, and to Barbara Ross née Dodge until Borland's death in 1978. Both of his wives were also writers. Borland and Helen had three sons, Harold Glen Jr. (1925-1963), Donal William (1929-2017), and Neil Frederick (1929-1944).

In 1952, Borland and wife Barbara moved to a 100-acre farm in Connecticut, where they lived and worked until his death in 1978 at the age of 77 from emphysema.

Here's something about his career he wrote for a brief biography in World Authors, 1950-1970.

"Early engineering training taught me to respect facts and logic. Newspaper years taught me to write straight sentences and build logical paragraphs, and fostered my work habits. A bent toward poetry gave me a sense of words and language that helped shape my style."

Here are a couple of excerpts from his obituary published in the New York Times in February, 1978.

Hal Borland, writer and naturalist, died late Wednesday at Sharon (Conn.) Hospital after a long illness from emphysema. He was 77 years old.

Author of 30 books and hundreds of articles and columns, Mr. Borland was celebrated as the writer of editorials in The New York Times that have chronicled the seasons for 35 years. The final two of 1,750 appeared Tuesday, the day before his death, and on Feb, 13....

The editorials were unsigned, but their authorship was no secret. A typical Borland, as they were called in the trade, would greet the arrival of spring in the still snow‐dappled Berkshires:

“The violets will come, in their own time. That is all that was written in the sky by Friday's equinox. The sun's summons will not be answered overnight, but the answer is inevitable. The first hungry bee at the first crocus hums of June, and the first green leaf forecast cool summer shade. All is in order. Spring is the earth's commitment to the year.”

‘The Voices of Frogs’

On the wall of his study in the farmhouse near Salisbury, Conn., hung a New Yorker cartoon showing a man angrily waving a copy of The Times and telling his wife: “Here's another of those crackpot editorials about the voices of frogs shattering the autumn stillness!”

Actually, Mr. Borland’ was a conservative and a conservationist who decried “sentimental or anthropomorphic drivel” in nature writing, Thus, he said, when wildlife appears to stocking up more than normally in the fall, it does not mean that it knows a lean winter is ahead, but a lush summer is behind...

In his gentle style, Mr. Borland appealed to gardeners and farmers to restrain the use of pesticides and save the birds—not, he said, for their song but for man's safety. “As far as I am concerned,” he said, “I am fighting for life, and a brown thrasher may eat up to 6,000 insects a day.”

Mr. Borland frequently wrote about the West, and recalled his boyhood years in a memoir, “High, Wide and Lonesome. In returning on a visit, he decried the encroachments of superhighways, and throwaway cans. His own refuge in the Berkshires was far from there, but he once described it as “the perfect world—a home at the end of nowhere.”

“This is the only way to live,” he said, “'waiting for the vernal equinox, seeing an apple tree blossom or coming on an old coon and her kits fishing for clams late at night.”

To protect his privacy, his mailbox bore no name. But nature lovers, among them Justice William O. Douglas, found their way there, and were welcomed warmly. Mr. Borland won the John Burroughs Medal, considered the country's highest award for nature writing, in 1968. Two of his books, “Sundial of the Seasons” (1964) and “An American Year” (1973), are collections of his editorials. His latest books were “A Place to Begin: The New England Experience” (1976) and “The

Golden Circle” (1977), writings for children, arranged by months of the year.

To his biography in Who's Who in America, Mr. Borland recently added:

“I am a fortunate man. I grew up on a frontier, escaped early success, had things to say when I matured. I have been able to make a living at work I wanted to do, to write what I believed and find an audience. My purpose has been to write at least a few paragraphs that will be remembered after I am dead. I have enjoyed life. I still do.”

In all my looking, I've seen no evidence of religion playing a huge role in Borland's life. To me, his writings speak of a great love for the natural world and the eternal cycle of the seasons. I first discovered his work among the dim, dusty shelves of a small town library probably twenty years ago. I was wandering around, pulling out old volumes at random and perusing them whenever a title looked interesting, and was immediately charmed with the 366 essays (one for each day of the year) in Hal Borland's Book of Days. They also had a copy of a compilation of his work published by his wife after his death, Twelve Moons of the Year. Both of these books have been recently been published again after being out of print for decades, and as a matter of fact I ordered a copy of Book of Days this morning! The essays I share here are from a Hal Borland fan page on Facebook. 

I'll wrap up this post with some well-known Hal Borland quotes. Enjoy!

* “Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”

* “Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night.”

* “In a painful time of my life I went often to a wooded hillside where May apples grew by the hundreds, and I thought the sourness of their fruit had a symbolism for me. Instead, I was to find both love and happiness soon thereafter. So to me [the May apple] is the mandrake, the love symbol, of the old dealers in plant restoratives.”

* Trees are the oldest living things we know. Rooted in the earth and reaching for the stars, they partake of immortality.

* Life persists, and so does its ultimate source, call it what you will. Man is a unique form of that life, but not alien to it. He happens to live in the midst of life on this earth, this particular small unit of a universe about which he actually has only a smattering of knowledge.

* Consider the wheelbarrow. It may lack the grace of an airplane, the speed of an automobile, the initial capacity of a freight car, but its humble wheel marked out the path of what civilization we still have.

* The earth's distances invite the eye. And as the eye reaches, so must the mind stretch to meet these new horizons. I challenge anyone to stand with autumn on a hilltop and fail to see a new expanse not only around him, but in him, too.

* Man is wise and constantly in quest of more wisdom but the ultimate wisdom, which deals with beginnings, remains locked in a seed. There it lies, the simplest fact of the universe and at the same time the one which calls forth faith rather than reason.

* Summer is a promissory note signed in June, its long days spent and gone before you know it, and due to be repaid next January.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Sundial of the Seasons

 July 28th and 29th

Sundial of the Seasons
"Dusk comes somewhat earlier now, the Summer Solstice already a month behind us and the daylight slowly diminishing. Time's are unchanged, but the landmarks shift even as the familiar star patterns shift in the night skies. Summer passes.
You see the change in the way the shadows fall. You see it in the trees, the subtle difference in the color of their leaves, in the ripening seed heads of the wild grasses, in young acorns on the oaks. Pasture roses fade. Black-eyed Susan and bouncing Bet flourish at the roadside. Queen Anne's lace is frothy white where daisies frosted the fence row a few weeks ago. Milkweed blossoms fade.
You hear the change in the bird calls, with fewer songs of ecstasy and more parental scolding. The wood thrush, the dove and the whippoorwill dominate the dusk. You hear it most decisively, when you pause to listen, in the insect sounds, for time has special dimensions for chitin-clad life that is granted only one Summer's duration. Bees are busier, wasps are more truculent, harvest flies more sibilant in the heat of the afternoon. Beetles click in haste, ants scurry, dragonflies dart on rattling wings.
And in the dusk, when the sphinx moths haunt the flower garden, crickets stridulate, mosquitoes hum, late lunas and other light-mad moths bang the window screens. August and katydids are just over the horizon, and Autumn is not far behind them. The shadow of time moves slowly but surely across the sundial of the seasons."
Hal Borland
"Sundial of the Seasons"
July 1962

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Best first day ever

Yesterday morning I got up early, showered, dressed, and, like a good citizen, showed up early for jury duty. We have a new courthouse in Florence County and it's quite nice, especially the landscaping. A whole bunch of young crepe myrtle trees have been planted. The flowers are the exact same shade of pale lavender as the ones in my yard.

I'm fairly comfortable in a courthouse setting thanks to my two years of serving as a Guardian Ad Litem for kids in foster care. I enjoy hearing how the different judges run their courts. They're almost always old white guys who love to hear themselves talk, but usually  they've had a patina of kindness, humor, and dignity about them. The judge yesterday fit that pattern. 

To begin with all the potential jurors stood up and gave their place of employment and position, marital status, and spouse's occupation. Several of us worked in the medical field in some capacity; Florence has two major hospital systems that provide thousands of jobs. After we were done the judge made a little speech thanking everyone who worked in the medical field in whatever capacity for their hard work, risk, and sacrifices over the past year. Then he said how worrying the Delta variant of Covid is, and how "South Carolina isn't doing the right thing to help bring an end to this pandemic". I was so excited that he was basically promoting vaccines from the bench! (We were all issued N-95 masks upon arrival and expected to wear them the whole time). Then later he started talking about jury responsibilities, and how no one really likes jury duty, but "in my experience South Carolinians are cheerful about doing their civic duty. I've often thought, that as one of the original 13 colonies, we have a great deal of respect for the English court system that we adopted from the beginning. With all it's faults, it's still the greatest system of justice that has ever been invented." 

Whew. Well. Moving on.  

I wasn't picked for the jury. We were all issued temporary debit cards where I'll be paid for my one day of service and also for my mileage. Altogether I think I'll make about $10 or so. 

Ah, well. It was still better than going back to work on the first day. Instead, midafternoon I went to Marian's house and went swimming.


And when I got to work today for my actual first day this year, a couple of the other office people said, "Thank god you're back! We couldn't get anything done yesterday for answering the phone and dealing with visitors at the front door! We were going to come kidnap you if you didn't show up today!"

Knowing they had to do my job all day yesterday was almost as sweet as the cool, cool water of the pool I was swimming in while they did it.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Thursday afternoon

It's a typical late-July day in South Carolina. Hot and humid, with hazy skies that are especially thick looking today because (believe it or not) smoke in the atmosphere from the wildfires 3000 miles away has reached us. Except for a quick early morning walk with George, watering the garden, and a late afternoon dash to the grocery store (in the un-air conditioned truck, ugh!) I've been hibernating in the house with the a/c most of the day.

While outside watering the garden this morning, I saw a beautiful and new-to-me butterfly. I believe it was a Red-Spotted Purple, and I wanted to get a picture of it to show you. Instead, here's an image I found online:

                                                Limenitis arthemis astyanax

I had plenty of opportunity to take a picture of my particular specimen, but I decided to spare you. He was perched on top of a giant pile of dog turds and was not moving.* Apparently this is a thing butterflies do sometimes. But anyway, you're welcome. 

In other garden news, today I harvested my 80th individual tomato! I've only had a gram scale to weigh them with (don't ask) so I haven't totaled up the number of ounces or pounds, but I believe I've had at least 40 pounds of tomatoes. As soon as the season ends I'll total everything up, but in the meantime it's 80 fruits, approximately 40 pounds and counting. Most of my plants are still growing and setting fruit. This is almost unheard of in this area. 

Another 1+ pound Mr. Stripey.  

Mr. Stripey, sliced. I love the colors. It's a mild, sweet tomato.

Mr. Stripey and a couple of others are taller than me, now.

And my bananas! Have I mentioned that my bananas are blowing up? They're also taller than me these days.

Last but not least, I had to share a picture of Marco for all his fans out there. Here he is posing beside one of the bananas. He had just flown a circle around the porch and landed there. If we didn't have screen to stop him, I assure you he'd be out in the wild right now. 

*Doesn't this seem like some sort of allegory for all of Life?

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Slip slip slipping away

It's the last week of my summer vacation. They always goes by quickly, but this year takes the cake. First we had to work an extra two weeks in June to make up for a pandemic related late start that year, and now we're returning two weeks earlier than usual as we begin a new modified "year round" schedule. That cut the summer shorter than normal by a full month. 

So here I am in the middle of my last week of freedom, and every day I have that Sunday afternoon feeling deep inside. Just mild dread and anxiety that I'm trying my best to ignore. The days are ticking by fast but I'm hoping to do a couple more fun things before this week is out, things to take my mind off returning to work.

Here was my project this past weekend: salsa!

I had a ton of mixed tomato varieties that had come ripe all at once and needed to be used up. This salsa is so delicious that I might make another batch when/if I get another big harvest of tomatoes. Some of the plants are over seven feet tall now and most still have plenty of green fruit. This afternoon I plan to pickle and can some sliced jalapenos--my garden is still pumping out loads of peppers. 

If we get another hot and sunny day between now and Sunday, I may be able to go swimming at my friend's house. I'd like to spend a little more time in the sun this week, the vitamin D seems to boost my mood. Even if I don't go swimming, I'll try to spend plenty of time outdoors just the same.

Oh, and I have jury selection next Monday to look forward to--who knows, I may end up with jury duty and miss the first week of work altogether! That would be an interesting way to start the year. We shall see. 

What are you up to this week?

Saturday, July 17, 2021


 Do  you guys remember this cat? The one that comes out to be petted sometimes when we're walking George?

We've recently learned that it's a boy cat named Simon. Simon is the sweetest cat ever. He runs out when we walk past, and will stand up on two legs to be petted. He craves love and attention and we're happy to stop and give him both! 

Today Gregg met Simon's owner at the pet store when she came in to buy fish. Turns out that the few cats we see hanging out at her house are strays that she got spayed/neutered and feeds, but she doesn't really consider them hers. She asked Gregg if we wanted Simon!

How I wish we could say yes. He would probably follow us home with very little encouraging, and we love him. (Especially Gregg). But I'm terribly allergic, George barely tolerates us petting Simon, and to top it all off we have a bird in the house. One morning we saw Simon trying to kill a dove. George would be a danger to Simon who would be a danger to Marco. And unless Simon were an outside cat, I'd be in the ER having breathing treatments.

But it sure is a nice thought all the same.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Mid-July harvest, and a garden pest.

My garden continues to flourish! The tomatoes are really starting to come ripe now, as you can see in the following photos. Tomorrow I'm thinking of making some homemade salsa to try to use up some of the extras, because we're about to be overwhelmed. We're also still getting loads of peppers, the occasional cucumber, and yesterday the very first cantaloupe!

Our counter runneth over.

A perfect Brandywine on the left, and the biggest tomato I've gotten so far this year on the right--a Red Beefsteak weighing in at just under a pound.

I love the gorgeous color on the Mr. Stripey. It's the big yellow one on the left with the pink blush. They look so pretty sliced, and the flavor is sweet and slightly fruity. We've had a nice assortment of varieties to try this year!

So I've had to deal with a few minor pests in my garden, small hornworms and some kind of little black worms that love to chew on unripe tomatoes and damage them. I've been able to keep both under control with close observation and hand picking, and I thought I'd make it through the season mostly unscathed. Well, lo and behold, the real pest and danger to my tomatoes lives inside the house:

I take all my tomatoes straight to the dining room table after I pick them for weighing and recording in my garden journal. Yesterday I turned my back for less than a minute and you can see for yourself what happened!

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Here it comes!

Yesterday afternoon our next door neighbor on the right, Heather, had a landscaping company out to do some work on her property. There used to be a nasty, thorny, wild hedge between our yards that kept coming back and needed to be dug out by the roots, as well as some large shrubs that needed pruning. There was also a big dead tree right beside our driveway that we worried was going to fall on our house or cars one day. Heather had been worried about it too, apparently, so she asked the landscapers if they could cut it down while they were out there doing the other work. 

I happened to be watching out of the window in the den when they started preparing to take down the tree. Three young guys wrapped a big chain around the trunk of the tree and braced themselves to pull it down in the direction they wanted it to fall while a fourth went to sawing at the other side with a very small chain saw. 

I turned to my husband. "This looks like a straight up, good ol' boy, hold my beer y'all kind of operation to me."  We both laughed. 

Then approximately ten seconds later I found myself gasping, "HERE IT COMES!!!" as this was happening:

Nice work, fellas.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

How we spent the 4th

 It was a nice long weekend here. We got some work done in the yard and garden, spent extra time with Marco on the porch, took George for nice walks around the neighborhood, and grilled out on Sunday. Later that night lots of our neighbors blew up fireworks, and for the first time it made George nervous. We stayed inside with him, watching tv with the volume up a bit. Downton Abbey has come to Netflix so we've been watching a few episodes every night recently.

Our 4th of July feast from the grill. Hotdogs, sausages, sweet corn (grilled in the husk), tomatoes and cucumbers from my garden, and potatoes grilled with rosemary, parsley, sea salt, and olive oil. Obviously this was enough food for two or three meals!

The ornamental pomegranate is blooming. Isn't that a lovely shade of orange? The miniature roses are finishing up a second flush of blooms, too.

We've finally harvested a couple of German Queen tomatoes.  They're meaty with a full tomato flavor and very few seeds. Definitely a variety to consider again for next year!

The Mr. Stripey tomatoes are starting to ripen. We haven't tasted this one, yet. It won't be long.

And before this month is out, we'll be eating our own cantaloupes. I'm ridiculously excited about it!

I hope you've all had a good weekend, too!

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Flying by

I can hardly believe it's already the first of July. The summer is flying by, which makes me a little bit sad. It will be over and done before we know it.

One of our neighbors put out this Pride flag at the beginning of June. It makes us smile every time we walk past their house with George. We don't know the people that live there, but we'd probably be friends. 

I'm supposed to go back to work on the 26th, and guess what? I got a summons for jury duty on that day! I've never had jury duty despite being registered to vote since I was 18 years old. From what I understand, I'll appear in court that day and the attorneys will decide whether or not they want me to serve. So I might or might not end up missing more than the first day of school. 

If I end up missing the first week, that's fine by me. The students don't come back until August 2nd, so most of that first week in the office will be spent helping with all the last minute registrations and answering hundreds of phone calls. Not a fun time. And for the first time I'm apprehensive about going back to work this year; some serious problems had developed that didn't get resolved before we left for the summer. I need to have a meeting with the principal early on so we can work some things out. The stress was starting to get to me at the end of last year. I didn't even realize how stressed out I was until I had a couple of weeks off and saw what a difference it's made. 

But enough about that! I still have three and a half weeks off before I have to worry about going back to work. I'm really enjoying my summer and trying make the most of it. Speaking of which, here's the master of finding a moment of zen on a summer's day:

Porch naps in the sunshine! What could be better?