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Jane Ahlin, Published June 02 2012

Ahlin: Like fledgling spring crops, friendship gains and grows

Time to check my crops. OK, “my” might not be the right word, since I don’t own the land and don’t know who does. However, the fields I’m talking about butt up against the bike trail I like to travel. For years the maturation of the crops in those fields have measured summer’s progress for me. At least that’s my excuse for an attitude tending towards the territorial. My investment certainly isn’t financial; nevertheless, I have a stake in the outcome of those crops.

That said, in recent years there’s been no annual surprise in what’s planted. Where soybeans go one year, corn goes the next and vice versa – boring yet, evidently, profitable. In the expanse of fields along the trail, there’s also one small area that stays planted in evergreen trees. I can’t decide whether the evergreens are future Christmas trees or just trees to supply a nursery and landscaping business. Not that it matters, but I think about it.

I take off on a perfect day for riding – bright sun and blue sky, neither too windy nor hot, and puffy cumulus clouds overhead, the kind of clouds that take the shapes of any number of things. When we were kids, there was nothing more summery for my friends and me to do than lie on our backs in the green grass looking up at the clouds and discussing their shapes. Was one shaped like a giraffe? An old-fashioned locomotive? A castle? Of course, if the sun slipped behind one of the great puffy clouds, the mood changed: the clouds suddenly held mystery and we were Nancy Drew and her pals looking for clues.

A good friend of mine had stopped by before my ride to pick up some things left from the party we’d had the day before to celebrate her 60th birthday – a party that included several dozen of her female friends. As we relaxed over cups of coffee, she talked about her two favorite sounds: one, the sound of melted snow as it drips off a roof; the other, the sound of women laughing, particularly, the sound of laughter coming through the open door of a house where women are gathered: a happy sound.

Some years ago after celebrating someone else’s birthday with a fair amount of hoopla, another friend was telling her adult daughter about the celebration. Her daughter said, “You and your women friends really treat one another well.”

“We do,” her mother replied. “We always do.”

Having been raised in another part of the country, my friend with the big party this past week insists this culture of women who nurture and celebrate one another is unusual, perhaps even unique to our area. “Women don’t do this where I grew up,” she said.

Whether she’s right or wrong, after 30-plus years in the community myself, I know what she means. Our place on the planet may be nothing more than a stepping stone on the way to bigger and better things for some, but that’s not the way we represent ourselves, nor the way we see ourselves. We live in a community that encourages people to settle in, put down roots, and stay a good long while, a place where friendships are easily begun – at work, across bridge tables, in church circles, during activities involving children or PTA meetings and school carnivals, through charitable work, arts organizations, service groups, or political campaigns, and, of course, among neighbors. Not all friendships weather the years, but a goodly number do.

As shared experiences grow over time, so do the qualities of familiarity, understanding, and appreciation. The good and bad (happy and sad) occurrences in individual lives are woven together in the fabric of friendship – fabric that suffers the occasional tear but for the most part, only grows stronger. In fact, the strength of friendship is one of life’s great gifts. On the occasion of her 60th birthday, that’s what my friend wanted to celebrate.

So we partied, and it was fun. On the bike ride to view my crops the next day, the resonance of seeing fledgling seedlings green up the ground today while knowing they will be “knee-high by the Fourth of July” and tower over me before summer ends resonates with the way friendships gain importance over time.

Friendship grows. Oh, how it grows.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.