Transient Beauty

It was the first summer after we bought our Iowa farm house. City transplants, we planted a huge garden. Tomatos, sweet corn, carrots, beets, cucumbers, radishes, green and yellow beans, peas, zucchini, squash and pumpkin, all kinds of peppers, and oak leaf and ruby red lettuce.  I planned to can and freeze vegetables. Enjoy our harvest through the winter.

On this particular hot and humid day, I was seven months pregnant and exhausted, but very proud of my first attempt at canning stewed tomatoes. I’d picked and washed the tomatoes. Dipped them in boiling water to loosen the skins. Chopped them with celery and peppers. Cooked the mixture and poured them into sterilized glass jars. And finally processed them in the pressure canner. Deliciously, gloriously red, the mixture was now displayed in mason jars, standing tall on my cupboard.

And then I heard our German Shepherd barking — a lot. I took two steps into the back yard and stopped dead in my tracks. The smell was unbelievable. Skunk. And all those beautiful stewed tomatoes, gone in a flash. Rubbed into the coat of Toby. At least he had the grace to lick his chops.

nature thunders rain
magnolia blooms fall to ground
magnificence gone


It’s Haibun Monday at dVerse, the virtual pub for poets. Today Grace asks us to write a haibun related to summer. This summer memory is from many many years ago. Haibun: prose (cannot be fiction) followed by a haiku (should be related to nature).  Pub opens at 3 PM Boston time. Come on over and join the fun! Photo in public domain – from Pixabay.


41 thoughts on “Transient Beauty

  1. Grace June 26, 2017 / 11:21 am

    That’s wonderful – to harvest them fresh and can them for winter’s enjoyment.

    Gardening takes a lot of work and all for that to spoiled by a skunk is very disappointing. I wonder if you still have your farm house?

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 3:25 pm

      No — we had about three glorious years in our farm house — nearest house was well over a mile away. We moved to Iowa City, Iowa — home of The University of Iowa — in 1976 and lived there till 1997. Raised our family there — but we did make it back to the Iowa State Fair quite often…and we also had a lovely garden in Iowa City…not near as big. Moved to Boston in 1997. But I have wonderful memories of Iowa and especially our country living days.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Glenn Buttkus June 26, 2017 / 3:12 pm

    Farm girl blues–you have had such an interesting life; great for writing later. Yup, skunks and rodents & stinging insects all come with the halcyon bliss of farm life it seems. Your poetic prose transports me completely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 3:27 pm

      thanks, Glenn. Well, let me yell ya…that scent would transport anybody! All those stewed tomatoes did the trick though…but he had tomato seeds in his fur for a long time….and I was not happy!
      Next day, I started all over again….and also canned homemade catsup! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kim881 June 26, 2017 / 3:17 pm

    I really enjoyed your anecdote, Lillian! It’s my dream to grow my own vegetables, once I clear a suitable space in our wild garden. That’s a great list of produce – I love home grown food. I have a friend who lives off her garden produce and my daughter used to grow her own veggies but she’s currently renting a place with a very small garden.
    How frustrating and disappointing to put in all that work to be foiled by a skunk! And poor Toby!
    I love the haiku, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 3:29 pm

      Thanks, Kim. People ask me here in Boston, “what do you miss most about Iowa?” My answer is always the same. “The people. They don’t call it the Heartland for nothing. And the first taste of a tomato picked right from the vine, and the first ear of sweet corn with butter dripping down my wrist!” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • kim881 June 26, 2017 / 3:30 pm

        I’m going to get some sweetcorn tomorrow!

        Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 3:30 pm

      Glad you enjoyed! I don’t wish “de-skunking” on anyone…..with stewed tomatoes or anything else! The smell is unbearable when it’s up close and personal!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Björn Rudberg (brudberg) June 26, 2017 / 3:28 pm

    I have had such dreams to harvest things for later use… now I buy stuff and preserve for winter… we do make elder bloom syrup that is delicious all year round, and I try to do some rhubarb jam (but we use bought rhubarb)

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 3:31 pm

      We had a huge rhubarb patch! LOVED rhubarb pie — and strawberry rhubarb pie — and rhubarb bread too! 🙂


  5. alisonhankinson June 26, 2017 / 3:34 pm

    I love this and it brings back memories of my own NZ garden; I miss growing veggies. I also miss the limes and lemons. I feel we can taste Iowa too…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. frankhubeny June 26, 2017 / 3:43 pm

    The dog I was taking care of in Maine encountered a skunk once right under the house built upon poles. The smell was beyond description. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any remedy for it except time. Nor did I have any canned tomatoes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 3:54 pm

      It truly is an awful awful smell! I did make more stewed tomatoes and fresh homemade catsup the next day! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Adda June 26, 2017 / 4:10 pm

    I can’t help but smile. 🙂 What a wonderful story! I didn’t realize you lived in the country for a few years. It had to be a difficult decision to use your freshly made stewed tomatoes. A lot of time, effort and love. But I am sure Toby was very grateful, and you as well. Wonderful, simply wonderful! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 5:54 pm

      Bought the house from the Heitmans I believe. Moved there beginning of 1974 and lived there til July 4, 1776. 15 acres of land – rented out most of it. Abbey and Aaron were both born at UIHC when we lived there. LOVED living in the country! Moved to our place in Iowa City from there.


  8. Bev June 26, 2017 / 4:19 pm

    Your 3 years on the farm pretty much describe my entire childhood. While it seems endless work, there’s a wonderful communing with nature that can’t be surpassed. I don’t remember any skunk stories, thank heaven, but I certainly enjoyed hearing about yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 5:57 pm

      Loved our country time! Hanging cloth diapers, sheets out on the line to dry – gardening. The absolute quiet. Tons of stars at night and fire flies in the summer❤️


  9. sarahsouthwest June 26, 2017 / 4:32 pm

    This made me laugh, but if it had happened to me, it would probably have made me cry. My son is asking “why tomatoes?”. Do they have particular efficacy against skunk smells? We don’t do skunks in the UK, my experience and knowledge of them is pretty well limited to the Bambi film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 5:59 pm

      Something about the acid. But tomato juice alone is not enough. You need the pulp — hence all the labors of that first day!! He was a wonderful dog though — but I wasn’t happy with him at that moment. I had stewed tomatoes all over me too!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • sarahsouthwest June 26, 2017 / 6:06 pm

        Nightmare! But very funny, now. And a useful tip…


  10. Jane Dougherty June 26, 2017 / 4:35 pm

    I love the idea of growing vegetables, and your garden sounds idyllic (except for the skunk) but the hard work would put me off.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 6:01 pm

      It is a lot of work but we loved it. Harvesting was the best! We also had 6 apple trees and I froze many an apple filler for apple pies we enjoyed all winter!


    • lillian June 26, 2017 / 6:02 pm

      Glad you enjoyed! I can chuckle now — not so much then with stewed tomatoes all over Toby and my maternity top!

      Liked by 1 person

      • jillys2016 June 26, 2017 / 6:08 pm

        My mom used to put up tomatoes, sauce, juice, among other things. Nothing was worse than tomatoes. They are meant to be eaten fresh between two slices of bread right there in the garden.


  11. Sue Vincent June 26, 2017 / 6:14 pm

    I’m glad I only have moles to contend with 🙂


  12. nosaintaugustine June 26, 2017 / 6:18 pm

    Funny! I mean, for me, not so much for you. Love the image of the dog licking tomatoes off it’s face. Cooking is somewhat thankless, but that goes above and beyond- what a waste! I enjoyed reading this, thanks!


  13. Charley June 26, 2017 / 7:56 pm

    This has a humor born of pain. Oh, my! Wonderfully told. Effective haiku!


  14. Sumana Roy June 26, 2017 / 10:11 pm

    How wonderful to grow one’s own veggies! Ha the spoil sport skunk did some annoying job. However a memory was made. Love your haiku.


  15. Feelings and Freedom June 27, 2017 / 1:43 am

    Wow! What a beautiful account of a lovely home garden. I always wonder how satiating it must be eat one’s own garden’s fresh vegetables. But the little skunk did do some naughty stuff there. I am sure it would put you off completely especially after the loving way in which you canned the tomatoes!


  16. kanzensakura June 27, 2017 / 2:05 pm

    Oh Lillian, how you have made me smile! I love the stories of your Iowa life. Poor Toby and poor yyou but glad to read you made more the next day…and catsup. I love doing that sort of thing. I always can tomatoes, homemade salsa, green beans…and later in the year making green tomato relish. Bless your heart.


  17. colorfulpen June 27, 2017 / 7:29 pm

    Your garden sounds delicious! I’ve always wanted to have a vegetable garden. Poor Toby! Wonderful haibun!


  18. Laura Bloomsbury June 28, 2017 / 4:42 am

    never had a need for tomato skunk repellent but love how your haibun captures young hopes and dreams in an Ohio summer


  19. merrildsmith June 28, 2017 / 7:40 pm

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing it in your haibun.
    We used to have skunks living around our house–I haven’t smelled any in a while though. I do remember one summer night when the windows were open. . .we couldn’t close them then till the smell disappeared. That’s too bad that you lost your tomatoes after all that work!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Victoria C. Slotto June 28, 2017 / 9:04 pm

    I have a confession to make–I laughed at the thought of that sweet stinky dog, but then felt like crying with you after all your hard work. But then, tomato juice is supposed to help get rid of that smell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lillian July 5, 2017 / 6:00 pm

      I laugh now too! 😊🙃. Not so much that day though — and I had stewed tomatoes all over my maternity top!!

      Liked by 1 person

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