Life at 90: Christmas in July, huckleberries, turtles, birds, bees and the beauty of flowers

| July 25, 2020 1:00 AM

I’ve been having such a great time the past couple of months with the government windfall of $1,200! When that check came in, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it: Christmas shopping early! Having turned 90 in March, I figured that though I’m in pretty good shape (for the shape I’m in), it might be a great idea to have gifts for my six kids and their various and assorted progeny — totaling about 20 — purchased early. What fun! Even after the infamous Virus entered the scene, I’ve been able to stockpile the “perfect” gift for all of them, and the ensuing sorting, wrapping and in some cases, preparing for shipment, has been a ball.

Of course, having taken this precaution, I’ll probably live another couple of years or so — but it’s been fun. Along with my birdfeeders, daily turkey flock visits and delight over the lavish flower displays that keep popping up, my cup — as I’m so fond of saying — truly “runneth over.”

One small disappointment reared its head this season — the dearth of huckleberries. For the first time in my entire life, I tasted nary a berry — and was unable to make my fabulous whipped cream/huckleberry dessert (which years ago, maestro Gunther Schuler enthusiastically pronounced, “a miracle!”). Vivid memories of picking those luscious orbs from age 3 (in 1933) to just a few years ago bring back visions of hillsides covered with berry-laden bushes waiting to be plucked! I guess our newly typical nasty spring weather failed to support the sun-seeking shrubs. Maybe next year!

The closure of some of my favorite stores has been such a grief — not just to the companies and the out-of-work staff, but to loyal customers. The choice of our Ponderay J.C. Penney to close was ill-conceived, since many of the customers came down from Canada. I personally have had my JPC card for over 40 years. I loved their quality clothing lines for both women and men and will miss it a lot. What a shame.

A bit farther away, Coeur d’Alene’s Pier 1 became a victim as well. I was always touting a store in our area but it never came about. Probably my favorite store in the whole world, I discovered Pier 1 when I was working in Spokane in the 1970s. It was located off Division along the Spokane River and even then showed promise for the nifty shopping mecca it would become. We in Sandpoint/Ponderay are really blessed to have great specialty shops of similar ilk here in our extended area.

On now to a little nature diatribe! when i saw the turtle race photos in the Bee after July 4, I thought “Oh, no, not again!” I read, though, that the racers returned the turtles to their earlier locations with no harm done. It didn’t mention any other participants, however, and for what its’ worth, please, folks and kids — don’t move these gentle (and becoming rare) creatures from their sites. If you see one crossing a road, take it for granted that it has a destination — a pond or small stream — and don’t take it upon yourself to pick it up and turn it around. Rather, watch the road and let it cross and consider yourself as having done a very good deed. Most all wildlife is endangered now and every little bit helps.

By the way, if you’re hiking in unfamiliar woods, possibly with dogs, watch for set traps. Too many opportunistic folk — looking to profit from the fur of a forest creature (regardless what it is) — place traps randomly — illegal by the way but all too common. Snap the trap with a stick and if you can, leave a business card or note pointing out the danger you have avoided.

On the home front, “my” woodpecker and jay family members , songbirds and summer-resident visiting Towhees, hummingbirds and a plethora of others, continue their welcome visits to my front deck smorgasbord of sunflower seeds, nectar, suet blocks and peanuts (also beloved by my pine-jimmies). The huge turkey flocks have dwindled to a few bachelors and “maiden aunts”, the remainder hanging out in the woods to raise their babies, I presume, and I must admit to not missing the copious amounts of “fertilizer” with which they bedeck my property.

The flower displays continue in beautiful rotation — the Peonies having given way to the Campanula glomerata and other bell-family members, with the spikes of on-coming Betony ready to burst into bloom over the entire area. Gorgeous!

Of course, my “flower garden” is non-existent — the whole property is a maniacal mass of inter-growing seasonal clusters of un-cultivated flora (and many appreciative bees, butterflies, et al). I can no longer tend to the order and efforts required for “prettiness” — but the now wild-growing glory of some 40-years ago planting is even more beautiful to me than the original. Wild roses have burgeoned in small bushes on nearly every square inch of bare ground — and I welcome them for their beauty as well as their having taken away the necessity of paying someone to mow a non-existent lawn! Blessings are where we find them!

I hope you are all in synch with our new lifestyle — hopefully of not too much longer duration! New week, I’ll share some great summer salad dressings — yes, just the dressings! Until then, God bless!

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at or by phone at 208-265-4688 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.


Lovely campanula glomerata is just one of many cultivars of the bellflower family.