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I experienced a first last week. I opened the back door to go out to the barn, and it smelled like Pennsylvania. That wet, lush, grass and earth smell suddenly took me back 50 years to summers on the farm. My horses, Scout and Kenosha, impatiently whinnied for their hay while I suddenly stopped to take it all in, memories flashing in front of me like they had just happened yesterday.

All day, scenes kept coming back — the silver maples around the pond, the mulberry tree where the skunks fed at dusk, the comforting sounds of the hens talking to each other. God, I loved that place.

It occurred to me that I've recreated some of my childhood place in Flagstaff. Not 60 acres, but a bit of land with horses, chickens, gardens. And that morning, the morning it smelled like the farm, I even felt the humidity. It was high, for Doney Park, and the sky was slightly overcast.

We haven't had that much rain really — maybe two inches so far where we live. But the grasses and forbes (flowering plants) have grown measurably since monsoon season started and my vegetable garden is gorgeous. I thought I was losing some penstemons in June, even though I was watering them, but they are back. The bee balm, Rocky Mountain bee plant and fernbush are blooming, as are the blanket flower and Bridge's penstemon. The grasses, primarily purple three-awn and blue grama, are green and lush.

I hear from folks that the prairie dogs on their properties have created "barren wastelands," but that hasn't happened on our property. I haven't figured out why, but I have a theory that our property was so heavily vegetated when the prairie dogs moved in that they really can't eat it all. Perhaps they haven't been here long enough, or it's because the grasses and forbes are unmowed. Or maybe it's because they go into the barn to eat hay and share the chicken's cracked corn! In any case, they and the desert cottontails are part of our little landscape.

Back on the farm, we used to sit on the back porch at dusk and watch the night fall. The bats would begin their evening sweeps over the pond and screech owls would call. Lightning bugs sparkled over the pastures and slowly the stars would appear. Sometimes when the moon was full, after everyone else had gone to bed, I'd sneak outside all by myself and dance in the moonlight on the wet grass.

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I've created some of that magic here. When our dog Mortimer was alive, he and I would go outside at dusk and sit on the sidewalk and watch dusk descend. I'd sit with a glass of wine on the still-warm walkway as the night cooled, and he'd lay beside me. We didn't watch bats or lightning bugs, but we did watch sphinx moths and mountain bluebirds, and listen to coyotes.

I don't sneak outside anymore to dance in the moonlight, but I do love to just walk outside around our little farm at dusk. I check in with the critters and flowers — and say goodnight.

Lynne Nemeth, executive director of The Arboretum at Flagstaff, is the editor of Gardening Etcetera. To reach her with articles or ideas, please email


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