The last week of June brought the strong aroma of chestnuts to my area. The smell permeated the thick, humid air and made for a few moments of unpleasant stench during my morning and evening bike rides. Observing the smell made me wonder what causes it. I did some research and found out that only the male tree flowers smell. The female flowers look the same, but do not emit an odor.
In my area, the American chestnut tree suffered a blight in the early 1900s. By the 1940s, the majority of the American species had been wiped out. Many trees were replaced with a Chinese species. My grandparents bought our family farm in 1945, which contained several chestnut trees, two of which were located in the side yard. As a child, I spent many hours picking up the prickly hulls and raking the debris from these trees into piles before my grandmother mowed the grass each week.
The smell brought back memories of my grandmother racing around the yard on her Snapper rear engine riding mower. My thoughts wandered a bit to later years and the day my Uncle Jim and I cut down the trees due to disease issues. Though I was sad to see the trees lose their majestic place on the property, I was also relieved to lose my chore of having to rake the hulls and deal with those prickly thorns.
Also this week, I noticed the first buds and blooms on the hosta and portulaca. The blooms again reminded me of my grandmother and all the time we spent outside in the yard. I also recalled my late neighbor, Kathy, who loved portulaca and had it throughout her landscape beds. My sister and I maintained Kathy’s landscaping for many years. The year before Kathy passed, she insisted I take some of her portulaca to plant at my house.
Each year since, little green shoots emerge in late May from the area where I first planted the portulaca. Though I moved most of the plants into pots this season, I still have little shoots popping up in my landscape beds. Seeing the shoots makes me feel as if Kathy is still with me in spirit. The connection to her through nature is what I feel is a blessing from God.
While biking this morning, I watched the clouds play and move in the sunlight. The sight made me feel very connected to nature. A feeling of peace and contentment swept over my stressed mind for a few moments. The experience made me realize how often I rely on nature to see me through life’s storms.
While running tonight, my mind wandered and settled on thoughts about the passing of basketball coach Pat Summitt. Though I did not know her personally, her passing hit me hard. As a teenager, I played basketball and followed her rise to success in the newspaper. She influenced many people in her lifetime and offered great examples of true sportsmanship, passion, and determination.
Looking to the clouds in the sky, I could not help but think that she was looking down from heaven and smiling at all the seeds she planted in her players, her community, and even places she did not know she had an influence. Like the portulaca that keeps popping up in my yard, Pat Summit’s spirit will no doubt be carried on and surface through the lessons she taught and examples she offered.
Gone But Not Forgotten
My thoughts then rolled on to the coming Fourth of July, the reason for the holiday, and some special relationships in my life. The freedom I feel when running and biking is invaluable to me. I am very thankful to the men, women, dogs, and other members of the military for the sacrifices made that allow me to have this feeling. Though I don’t know many of them personally, I do pray for their safety and well being with the hope my prayers help, even if only in some small way.
The beginning of July was always special to me because it meant celebrating my Uncle Jim’s birthday. Uncle Jim was like Jesus to me growing up, so his sudden passing in 1995 left a huge hole in my heart. However, I have found his spirit surrounding me as I run, bike, and watch the skies changing through the seasons. Though he was not famous like Pat Summitt, he influenced many people in his lifetime and offered some great examples for living life to its fullest.
The beginning of July also brings back memories of Nikki, my beloved German shepherd. Nikki influenced many people in her short life as well. Oddly, she passed away on July 2, the same day Uncle Jim was born. (Read more about Nikki in the book Nikki Jean).
Coming Around Full Circle
Uncle Jim always said that life was like a circle and that as we move around the circle, we learn and grow. He was a nature lover, very in tune with the seasons and all that nature had to offer to the mind, body, and soul. As I finished my run tonight, my thoughts came back to the chestnut trees and the memories invoked by their smell. I also contemplated all the influences in my life and how many of them are connected to nature and relationships.
As I reflected on all the places my mind had been along my run, I realized I can easily get lost in summer and the skies above. This thought led me to write the following poem.
Lost in the Summer Sky
Lost in the Summer sky
In awe of the clouds puffy white
Floating along with the breeze
As the season’s song beats
To the rhythm of nature’s heart
Reaching within the deepest parts
Of the soul walking upon the path
With time moving on from the past
Guided by the colors in the sky
And all the stellar sights
Offered by the sun, moon, and stars
In the midst of summer’s moving art.
Lost in the summer sky
Caught up in the heavens wide
And the endless sea
Of blue threads that weave
A magical blanket of wonder in the childlike soul
Playing under the skies as they unfold
To reveal life itself and its many complexities
Slowly as time runs to the sea
Where upon the shores
One sees the dawn and so much more.
Lost in the summer sky
Blessed by God within the light
Filtering down through the trees
As the day comes to be
Formed within life’s canvas
Of colors both stored and created at random
By the light’s rays
As the sun in the sky makes
Its trek across the heavens wide
To reveal God’s greatest gifts in time
To help the mind, body, and soul see
Where it needs to be.
-Lisa A. Wisniewski
Resources and Related Links
Chestnut Tree Blight – http://plantclinic.cornell.edu/factsheets/chestnutblight.pdf
Chestnut Tree Smell – http://homeguides.sfgate.com/trees-stink-59490.html
Pat Summitt – http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/28/us/pat-summitt-obit/