The Hazards of Planting

An American plum tree is currently leafing out
In the corner of my kitchen
It’s wrapped in a plastic bag 
Nestled in moist peat moss or some such material 

We’ll decide on a location, my wife and I, then plant it
That’s no easy choice, since this tree--a shrub, really
Puts down roots that spread widely  
Into the surrounding soil

These roots bring new growth to the surface
Eventually forming a hedge
Placing a plum shouldn’t be taken lightly
Those roots make it hard to move.

I Wish I Didn’t Have to Sew

“If I look at it long enough, I’ll figure it out.”  That was the thought that went through my mind, anyway.  

I sat just a bit longer, staring at the sewing machine.  I looked down at the spool of thread, then placed it on the pin that I knew was there to hold it.  Going with the obvious, I slid on the disc of plastic that holds the spool in place.

It had been a while since I’d sat before this sewing machine, but I’ve done so many times in the past.  It’s been a while, though.  I knew how to thread it, but I didn’t know how to thread it.

So, as I understand it, the route thread takes through a sewing machine is designed primarily to let it leave the spool with an appropriate amount of tension.  It leaves the spool, goes over the river and through the woods, all on the way to the eye in the end of the needle.  It’s the river and woods part that’s tricky.

Muscle memory.  That’s the ticket.  Without a lot of thought, I pulled the thread under the first metal thingy and over the next.  It looked like that nearby slot was a good place to pull through, so through it I went, pulling down, around the tensioner gadget, back up through the same slot, and into the metal wire that was fortunately resting in a position where it was visible.

I had this.

I pulled back down, past the metal bar, and–I was seriously surprised at this–through the wire guide that I just knew sat behind the needle holder.  After I did so, I actually looked to make sure it was there.  Yes, it was.  Wow.  After that, it was a simple matter of threading the needle.  Always start with thread that’s freshly cut.  It’s a lot easier that way.  

Boom.  It’s the little things.

Believe it or not, putting the bobbin in was even easier.  Incredible.

Like so many do-it-yourselfers these days, I was making a face mask.  I try not to dwell on that too much, but making a face mask I was.  I was making that first one for myself, since I figured making a larger one would be easier than making the significantly smaller one that would fit my wife.  I know we’ll be getting a lot of use out of them, so we want several on hand.

I know I learned many things when I was in high school all those years ago, but the two I’m most thankful for are how to sew, and how to type.  Those classes, plus growing up in a family of makers, gave me skills that have served me well. 

I do enjoy sewing, and making things in general.  I just wish I didn’t need the sewing thing for a time like this.


Do they, these plants, these birds, these fish, these things
We call invasive
Do they ever drop that label?

In my perfect world, the world I want to see
The sweet smell of honeysuckle would not pervade
The cool north Alabama springtime air
Birds would not gorge on the berries of privet or English ivy
Kudzu would not consume square miles of the countryside
European starlings would not descend upon my lawn en masse

But, despite my wishes, they have
They do
They will

I do my best never to propagate or propone
I educate where and when I can
I pull and chop when given the opportunity
But when I think of the injury I and my own species
Wreak upon the local environment with our daily practices
Our automobiles, our refuse, our pollution
All in the pursuit of comfort and convenience
I have to wonder if my energies
My emotional energies
Are better spent elsewhere

(Draft) Tim Gels May 2020


Building with a Kindergartener

“Okay, I need you to hold this end of the tape measure right here; right here on this mark.  While you hold that, I’m going to stretch it out and we’ll see how many inches it is to that mark over there.”

As I set the tape measure down on the block of wood I had put in place a moment ago, I said, “Okay, now come down here and let’s see how many inches it shows.”

As my six-year-old granddaughter moved with a bit of swagger in her little step to where I was standing, I quickly moved to her previous location and put the tape back on the mark.  She was close, but still…  I moved back to where I started and we both looked down at the markings on the ruler.

“Okay, what number is that?”

She looked.  I looked.  She continued to look.  I waited until the point of frustration, then prompted, “What’s the first number?”


“What’s the second?”


“And the third?”

“Three,” she said.  Then, seconds later, “One hundred and three!”

“High five!” I exclaimed, as her face, broad with a smile, looked up at me. “That’s right, one hundred three,” I told her.  “That’s exactly what we wanted it to be!”  

My oldest granddaughter and I, with a little help from my long-deceased friend Pythagoras, were checking to make sure the corner of the wall for the catio I was building was square.

No, she doesn’t have a clue what the Pythagorean theorem is, and no, she doesn’t fully comprehend what 103 inches means.  She is, however, beginning to understand she can use that long springy thing to measure how far away something is.  I’ll take that for now, and later we’ll work on the rest.  And don’t worry, we’ll wait until at least the second grade before we start with power tools!

An aside: A “catio,” in case you didn’t know, is basically a fenced room on one’s deck or porch.  Yes, it’s for the cats.  Do my daughter and her husband spoil their cats?  Ya think?


Sassafras Leaves

Recently a friend posted pictures of a tree
Well, part of a tree, a very small part
Leaves, emerging from a bud
The same bud, every day
A bud on a sassafras tree
The same tree; the same bud

#phenology, she tagged the images:
The study of cyclic natural phenomena

She started with magnified pictures
As the small action required
Eventually leaving that technique behind
Day by day we watched as her photos
Documented what we saw all around us
Nature’s newness emerging

Frost said, “Nature’s first green is gold”
And, of course, he was right

As a student, I knew what I was watching
A bud, formed the summer before
Covered with scales, holding embryonic leaves
Before that, meristems and apical meristems
Leaf primordia, cell division, growth
An annual process repeated over millennia

Recognizing the science, daily I let it go
Choosing instead to just enjoy the miracle


Coming In from the Back Yard

As the air cools in the evening
Coming in from the back yard, it seems
Is never just coming in from the back yard

With the sun cut in half by the trees to the west
One’s coming in from the back yard should be easy:
Point yourself toward the back door and walk

But it’s rarely that simple  

You see the last plants in the garden that need watering
The last weed, missed before, to be plucked from the ground
The wheelbarrow, shovels, and hand tools to be cleaned

The level in the chicken waterer, you notice, is low
And it’s best to take care of that tonight
So it’s not forgotten with the busyness of the morning 

There are so many things to take care of

The hose coiled, the chickens settled
The sun now fully below the tree line and dusk deepening
You stand, one last time, on the porch looking out over the yard

The evening birds are singing their twilight songs
The air is still and distinctly cooler
And you turn toward the house

Reaching for the light switch as you go

A Visit to the Ocean

When I visit the ocean
I suppose I do it in the conventional way
I start with the drive, heading to the coast
Leaving my home to eventually travel
Past the souvenir shops and the restaurants
Cruising along strip malls with coffee bars and other bars
And the crowds of people, weary and windblown
Walking the sidewalks

Eventually I’ll reach the beach
Hot, bright, and sometimes littered with sand toys
Toys left “for the next family”
I’ll walk with a crunchy shuffle toward the surf
Until my feet finally feel the water
A few steps later and the waves are pushing against my body
And soon I’m in up to my neck
Bobbing up and down as the water undulates around me

And I stop.

What if, though, I could simply start in the middle?  At the bottom?
Somehow submerged despite the laws of nature
Relaxing, strolling the depths
Barely able to see by the dim light that’s made its way down to me
I’ll walk amongst the other aquatic beings
Those both imagined and unimagined, swimming past me
Or scurrying along the ocean floor
Creatures without an uncomfortable chafing problem
The kind you get when you go to the ocean



With both hands holding the pry bar, I raised it to head-height, then drove the straight end into the joint of the stair railing with a solid thunk.  The wood separated slightly from the post to which it was attached, so I took the curved end of the bar and pounded it into the newly-opened crack with my right hand.  Lifting the lever with both hands, I separated the railing from the post completely and the wooden structure fell to the ground some two feet below with a satisfying thud.

“That was cool.  I didn’t even hurt myself,” I said aloud to no one but my dog.

I’m what one could graciously call a slow starter when it comes to projects.  One less gracious would call me a procrastinator, and with no grace at all the question would be, “Why don’t you just get started?” 

My favorite explanation–though it’s not an excuse–for someone like me is that I’m a perfectionist who’s reluctant (read: afraid) to get started because of the commitment to something that might not turn out as I want it to.

Something, in this case, like a set of stairs off of our back porch that needs to be rebuilt.  If I didn’t take them down soon, nature would do so through the even-slower process of decomposition.  That’s less than ideal.

So, this was the day and I knew I’d have to jump in.  I don’t have the materials yet to rebuild the stairs, but the first step was to take the railings off the old ones, so I decided to just go for it.

I opted to eschew power tools since there were only two cuts to be made.  Standing in my woodshop, I grabbed a hand saw designed for firewood, decided it would do, and walked out to the back porch.  With a lot less effort than dragging out a power saw, I cut the lower supports of the railings off at ground level.

With the lower supports cut, I used the pry bar to remove the structures from the posts at their upper ends.  Piece of cake.  One trip with the wheelbarrow to take everything out to the street for pickup, and step one was done in less than 30 minutes.

With the railings gone, the project is a lot harder to put off, and I don’t see it being long before I can check it off the list.

Oh, yeah…the list.  This is my summer to knock it out, I can feel it!


Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Living on the edges
Woodland   Field   Woodland
Ear tufts and yellow eyes
Hearing and seeing what you and I can’t

A mellow hoot belies the fear it imparts as it
Preys the edges
Woodland   Field   Woodland
Ear tufts and yellow eyes

Feathered tiger

This is partly a found poem, using words and phrases from National Geographic’s Birds of North America: Pocket Guide (2013)


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