Poppies in the Ditch by mia hinkle

May 2021

Author Alexandra Elle once said, “There will be moments when you will bloom fully and then wilt, only to bloom again. If we can learn anything from flowers it is that resilience is born even when we feel like we are dying.”

A friend from Minnesota, Karen (Ray) Alvstad, recently sent me a photo of poppies blooming on a roadside with a note that read, “One of our Memorial Day traditions is to drive to the site of the Evansville farm where you grew up. The house, the barns, the machine shed, and the airplane hanger were bull dozed long ago but there are several stands of blooming poppies this time of year, reminding us of Flanders Field. If you ever take a road trip back home in May, you will want to revisit the site.”

A few days later I received a letter in the mail from Audrey Lerum (90) who was a dear friend of my mother’s before we moved off the farm in 1965. After catching me up on what’s blooming in her yard and which little animals and birds are frolicking around her house, she wrote, “Your mother’s big poppy plants once again are blooming and lots of people drive by to see them. Last year a fellow picked one and brought it over for me to see. I used to always try to drive by your old place a couple of times while they are in bloom, but no longer can I see to drive.”

I was only 11 years old when we moved off the farm in West Central Minnesota, so, intrigued I sent the photo to my siblings. My oldest brother, Carlton Huseth (we call him Hans) texted right back, “Wow! Fantastic! I am surprised they are still there!”

Wait! What?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-photo-2566847-1024x682.jpeg
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Here is what I learned. It was the summer of 1960 and my now 75-year-old brother was just 14 years old. The county road department had flattened the gravel road in front of our farm, to make it safer I guess. This involved cutting into the hill upon which our house stood, leaving a jagged cliff from our yard down to the road. He and our mother (Darlene Huseth) came up with a plan custom-made for Hans’s 4-H project. Curb appeal is everything, they agreed, even if cars seldom drive by. When I was little, I remember thinking that if I heard a car coming, we were likely expecting company.

They decided on two perennial cutting gardens on either side of the driveway running the entire length of our frontage. They ordered seeds from Gurney: black-eyed susan’s, yellow daylilies, white daisies, orange tiger lilies, purple irises, rose bushes, marigolds, zinnias, pink peonies, and splendid red poppies (but not the kind they make drugs out of she assured him.) Hans used the Farmhand scoop on the Farmall F20 to haul 20 loads of barnyard dirt transforming the cliff in our front yard into a more gradual ditch. Every minute not cultivating soybeans that summer, Hans was working on the garden. Digging, hauling, raking, planting, watering, weeding. It was back-breaking work but our mother and her firstborn got to create something huge together, as he was beginning to slip into adulthood.

The barn had been built into a hill many generations ago and the adjacent barnyard had seen more than its fair share of livestock over the years. And the barnyard dirt? That soil was infinitely more fertile than any soil found in those plastic bags at the fancy landscape supply stores. That soil was the real deal. Not harsh or likely to burn. Just good rich smelly fertile soil.

They planted the seeds in late spring and by summer those flowers were dancing happily in the sunshine. They took root easily. They were nourished efficiently. Long bright days and cool nights developed their vibrant colors and strong stems. Those flowers springing forth in the ditch were quite the attraction and soon people were driving out of their way just to take a look!

But as it goes in the natural world, by autumn the flowers wilted and bowed to the coming winter. Their pedals faded and withered, their dry stems were broken, their seeds scattered in the wind. My brother planted a few dahlia and tulip bulbs to give the garden a head start in the spring and soon winter covered the land in snow and ice.

And then, miraculously, just a few months later, those tiny shoots began with the work of it. Seeds that had been sound asleep under the snow now stretched toward the sun. Soon the days became long and those gardens in the ditch were again ablaze with vibrant color. Oh and my brother? You probably guessed it: a Blue Ribbon on his 4H project! That was in 1960.

If we can learn anything from flowers it is that resilience is born even when we feel like we are dying.

We’ve all had those times when we feel like we are wilting and dying after fully blooming. Those cold November winds whip up in all kinds of ways. Your body, once the picture of health, may fail you with a dim diagnosis. You may lose a loved one. Your beautiful kids may go astray. You may lose that dream job you worked so hard to get. You may be sent to war in the prime of your life. You may be flying down the highway on your Harley Davidson as free as a bird one minute and in some ICU far from home the next.

And then you may feel like you are buried under winter for a very long time. You can’t breathe. You don’t know which way is up and which way is down. Your once strong limbs feel like noodles, sort of like you’re walking in Jell-O. But trust me on this. One day you will see that resilience was born during that time, and soon you will feel the earth warming and the sunshine drawing you near.

There will be moments when you will bloom fully and then wilt, only to bloom again.

And sixty years later your splashy scarlet poppies will still be the talk of the town and will totally be worth a Memorial Day sightseeing drive down a dusty country road near Evansville, Minnesota.

photo by Karen Alvstad

2 Comments

  1. I am not uneducated about this disease. My Uncle had the same, and I Loved him. My heart is filled, with prayers, and Love with this journey of your Love. Peace to you!

  2. GREAT STORY MIA , JIM’S GRAND MOTHER HAD THEM ALONG HER STONE WALL IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL GARDEN .

Leave a Reply