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Home at last! If you want to know where home is, go away for a long while.

I knew I would be happy to come home, but I can’t describe the feeling of comfort and peace that came over me when I returned.

I arrived in time for the last of the peonies and collected the crepe of the wilted petals for potpourri in bowls around the house.

I saw the end of the bloom of my grandmother’s yellow rose, but most of the yellow season (the varieties of black-eyed Susans) is ahead of us.

The yucca is sending up sweet buds that will open into a chandelier of white bells swinging in the breeze (you can almost hear them tinkle), and the creeping bellflower is blooming amongst the peony bushes.

Sweet rocket has finished, with only a few pink blossoms clinging to long petioles where the seeds are beginning to form.

I feel the end of summer looming ahead already, and so I got busy right away with projects.

I decided to bring a little bit of my Chinese home to Birdland. I am trying to recreate the beds in the “flower quad” that I passed through on my walking commute to the office every day.

First, I arranged to have a load of garden soil delivered right between the lane and my corner meadow. Then I raked it into a nice mound and started planting.

The beds I admired so much on my campus usually had a shrub and a small tree in the center, surrounded by perennials, annuals bordering the whole bed, so it was like a flower island.

I have ordered some dwarf apple trees and will plant one in the center. A hibiscus next to that. But along the back of the island, I planted vegetables — heirloom tomatoes from my friend Brian (who is a much better gardener than I am), with one eggplant and a row of cabbages.

Then, surrounding the tree, I planted Shasta Daisies, Foxglove (for our oldest) and coreopsis, with the star feature of lavender. And finally, a skirt of begonias and dianthus. I also planted some seeds of various cucumbers, kale and mustard (another gift from Brian).

Right now, it is still mostly black soil with these plants sparsely growing, but I hope they will soon fill out.

Planting was hard because the soil was just a pile without structure. Wherever I stepped in order to plant, my feet just sunk like I was on a sand dune. I lucked out with two soaking rains since I built my bed, so I have high hopes for my new garden.

The rain greened the grass, and we go around in the morning and pull weeds from the softened soil. We are mowing less and less of the yard and encouraging colonies of interesting plants.

The rain brought us another visitor: a tiny red lobster the size of my thumb.

Michael and I were walking around after a heavy rain — I’ve missed these inspection walks with my husband while I was away — and there in the grass we found it.

It was nowhere near the pond, and when I told our middle son, Dylan, about it, he asked if I thought it came from Camp Creek, which is over a mile away. I told him I didn’t think it could walk that far and that I think it just burrows in the soil and lives underground by the water table.

He said, “What?! Have I been completely misunderstanding what a crawdad is?”

My “iNaturalist” app said it might be a red swamp crayfish, but further research turned up something called a prairie crayfish. And they DO burrow down and live around the water table eating snails and small insects.

They apparently build these burrowing mounds, but I haven’t seen any in our yard, so it was quite a surprise to come across the little monster.

She was pretty feisty and didn’t appreciate it when I picked her up. (When we read later about how females carry eggs attached to their underbelly, and Michael thinks he saw some.) We named her Miss Snappyclaws and set her back down for a photo op (I wish I’d thought to take a selfie while I was holding her).

Traveling showed me many adventures and many new sights, but Miss Snappyclaws showed me that there are always new surprises at home, if we only look carefully.

Travel in Beauty; Return in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in The News-Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal-Republican. Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can see pictures about this week’s post on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at or via snail in care of the Journal-Republican, 118 E. Washington St., Monticello, IL 61856. She wants to thank her friends for writing and will answer you all soon.

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