Two In The Bush

Back about a month ago when we had a break in the rain for an hour (that’s sarcasm, but just barely since it has rained almost every day over the past two months) I was deep in contemplation on my knees in the dahlia garden. I was probably tying them up or situating the drainage underneath them, lost in thought when a sound brought me to consciousness. “Skree! Skree!” the sound went and I thought as I rose from the fog, “I should lift my head occasionally and notice the birds,” as the “Skree” was clearly a bird and one nearby at that. “Skree! Skree!” it went again a little more insistent and I was roused by the urgency of the cry to stand up and look around.

blueberries not quite ripe

blueberries not quite ripe

As I have been reporting we were very excited about the progress of the blueberry bush and all of the berries slowly ripening. I had made a armature for the bird netting and draped said netting over the armature, but the damn birds are very clever and persistent or perhaps just hungry or all of the above and had managed on more than one occasion to find a way inside the net and eat the few berries that were ripe. Julia began reporting that every night after dinner as she walked through the wet grass with the dogs to the creek she would have to lift the net and free one or more birds who were clearly getting more of the blueberries than we were. Every morning I’d come to check on their ripeness and find fewer, confirming the bird invasion.

Last night, one of two nights in the last month or more wherein it was NOT raining, I was doing the routine walk to the creek with the dogs and came around the garden to find two damn birds inside the net. I lifted one side of the net to give them a quick way out, partly because I didn’t want them to eat the berries and partly because that net is a real challenge to humans and birds. They flapped and carried on as if trapped and the dogs, especially Buster, raced to the bush and barked like a maniac at the poor birds who were trying to free themselves of the net. They usually find a way out just as easily as they got in, which is not very. There was lots of flapping and fluttering and a bit more “Skree!” thrown in for good measure.

Given that I had lifted the net on one side, not easy because it is almost invisible and tends to snag on anything not rounded such as the chicken wire and my garden hat and the rings on my fingers, I figured the birds would eventually figure there was freedom awaiting them. One was super close to finding the opening as I led the dogs away from the fluttering and down to the creek. We dawdled down there for quite some time in the thick heat and humidity and after a while I grew overwhelmed at the amount of work that needs to be done but hasn’t because: A) it is raining all the time, 2) I have a new job (that I love!) and C) when a free moment arose I went out of town to love on my cousin(s). Seriously the amount of weed wacking and mowing is major. This is why we are consistent in our care so that it doesn’t get out of hand like this, but what can you do? Julia’s niece and her friend Bianca came for a few days and they didn’t even notice that the borders were overgrown or that the island needed mowing. They thought they were in Paradise.

Niece Katie and her roommate Bianca

Niece Katie and her roommate Bianca

As I came up the hill, “Skree! Skree!” there was still one bird in the net flapping midway up the enclosure, evident even from a distance that it was caught in the net. I ran toward it and verified its predicament. It was almost upside down flapping and struggling. I reached inside the net and grabbed the bird to keep it from breaking its leg. Upon closer inspection its little tiny toothpick sized leg was wrapped in the net several times over, its tiny needleish claws bound by the net. Damnit. By this time the dogs had caught up with me and Buster commenced to bark and race around the bush, not helping anything. I tried with my hands to free the little leg, but it was too difficult, given my feeble eyesightand the confusion of netting. I let the bird go and ran to the tool shed and grabbed the scissors and ran back to the bird. I reached in again and grabbed the bird because upside down flapping was getting him nowhere and only compounding the problem. I knelt there and carefully cut the net around the bird’s leg. Once done, and that was no small feat given the net is invisible, I pulled the bird out of the enclosure. The amount of net that remained on the leg was unacceptable. In my mind’s eye I saw that scene from the documentary Winged Migration where the duck or whatever it is flies with a snarl of plastic around its foot for thousands of miles. Well not on my watch would this little bird be burdened with this quarter-sized snagfest. The little thing was panicking for sure, but it was out of the certain hell the enclosure would have become if I had done nothing. This was not a factor of “letting nature take its course” that I was willing to walk away from.

the pitiful yeild

the pitiful yeild

I held the bird in one hand and drug an upside down pickle bucket into the shade so I could have a place to sit. You don’t want to operate on a panicked little bird in the hot afternoon sun, or at least I didn’t, and since my heart was beating rapidly as well, (though I was calm, as if a truck had fallen on my child and the only rational solution was to lift the truck by myself) the cool of the shade seemed prudent. So with Buster nosing and yapping occasionally and Mazie sitting patiently curious, I held the little bird a reasonable distance from my face and started to cut the mess of net still wound around its leg. Snip. Snip. Examine. Snip. It was in between the examination and the snipping that I straightened my arm a bit and looked at the bird in its one bulging terrified eye. I had yet to really look at the whole bird, only the leg, only the situation, only the solution ticking systematically in my mind. It turned its head to look at me as well. Its little beak was open but issued no sound, its ability to “Scree” evaporating the moment I wrapped my hand around its body. I could feel the heart’s crazy beating between my fingers.  I went quickly back to the snipping. Just about then the bird released itself on to my wrist: blueberry filled poo drooled down my arm to the elbow. Frankly I was surprised it took the bird that long to shit itself, a bird of great courage and composure given the giant human hand and the hideous net. I continued to make a few more snips and then wiggled the remaining net free from the leg and immediately opened my hand. No kiss on the forehead, no words of praise or good wishes, just opening the hand to freedom. The bird flew away.

p.s. I can buy blueberries for $1.99 a pint at the grocery store. We dismantled the enclosure.

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Then She Fell

If my life were a musical in this act I would be down stage right, sometimes sitting on a sizable log prop dangling my fingers in the pseudo creek and sometimes dancing and spinning amongst the flowers (ala Maria on the Alps) singing a countrified ballad of longing and recognition. Julia would be there to lift and support me, to blend with my voice.

daylilly at the creek bridge

daylilly at the creek bridge

In counterpoint, my sister (perhaps like a plucky no-nonsense urban Debbie Reynolds) would be stage left with a chorus of supernumeraries swirling around her in a busy car-door-slamming cityscape while singing an urgent checklist of obligations with a Gilbert and Sullivanized staccato delivery.

clematis in all its glory

clematis in all its glory

At a certain point in the number our voices would cross over and then harmonize as they always do so beautifully in musicals. They would blend and swell as our volume increased and it would be strikingly rich and layered as only sister’s voices can be. In the center of it all would be my mother crying out: “Help me!” “Don’t help me!” over and over again. Oh if life were a musical it might be so much more…bearable?

bee balm, our most recent addition

bee balm, our most recent addition

Mother came up for a few days of blissful eating and admiring of flowers. Almost 87 years old she made her way all the way down to the creek and back up the hill observing and commenting on every leaf and moss patch, every flower and composition of garden bed, wanting me to leave nothing out of the tour. We ate good food like we always do and sat rapt watching the TV as Wallenda invoked the name of Jesus while he balanced across the Grand Canyon. The next day we toured the garden again because everyday, every hour, sometimes just minutes, dawns anew for her as her memory slips away. Never has the sky been so blue, the clouds so pristine, the birds so active, the scents so distinct, the foods so flavorful, according to her recollection. How fantastic is that?

hydranga busting out

hydrangea busting out

We have a couple of paintings in our home done by the wonderfully quirky Trulee Grace Hall. The first one shows a girl riding a speeding horse with her hair trailing in the wind. The caption reads, “They were both thinking about freedom…”

Trulee Grace Hall's "They Were Both Thinking About Freedom"

Trulee Grace Hall’s “They Were Both Thinking About Freedom”

In the second painting, the girl is laying on the ground and the horse stands beside her; the caption reads, “Then… she fell.” April 28, 2013 060Then she fell. This might be the title of the musical, and the conflict around which the whole story revolves. The reality of our lives is that when my Mother got home, riding a wave of freedom and travel fatigue, after her regular Thursday night date with her man friend, she fell. Now is when it all changes. Everything from this point on will revolve around those three words and the complications they present. Then she fell. Nothing is broken, no real harm done, her pride is hurt and her confidence shaken, but things will change.

blueberries: not quite ready

blueberries: not quite ready

Years ago my father, who was an insurance salesman, sat us down in a rare family meeting soon after my mother’s mother had died. Clearly he and mom had been discussing their wishes for their own futures and their hopes not ever to be in a position of such compromise and dependence as my Grandmother had imposed on them. He had a diagram that must have been associated with an actuarial table that showed an elderly person’s life expectancy after a catastrophic incident such as a hip break or a heart attack.  The line went gradually, steadily down as the person aged, a reasonable decline, until the incident and then it fell. The line does not go up for an 87-year-old with bad balance and a problematic memory. And nothing, no amount of planning or hoping or stubbornness or care can assuage the advance of the seasons. or the storms associated with them. Not when you are 22 and you are on your way to graduate school, not when you are 50 and the world seems manageable at last, not when you are 87. You just have to ride the horse at full gallop, let the wind ruffle your hair, and enjoy it all as much as you can… until you fall. And then figure it out from there.

shade seeking Buster in the leriope

shade seeking Buster in the leriope

I think my sister and I know that as sad as the story may be and however long and inevitable its ending, it’s about singing the song as harmoniously as possible, being true to our individual parts, appreciating the beauty of the melody and that we have this chance to sing and dance together.

raspberries: ready!

raspberries: ready!

p.s. as predicted everything is starting to bloom…” and grow, bloom and grow forever..”

Mouse's marker amidst the firepokers

Mouse’s marker amidst the firepokers

p.p.s. In case you were wondering, or trying to assign meaning, the images have very little to do with the text of this post, or most posts for that matter, but I can’t resist showing how beautiful the flowers are and the state of blooming.

After the Iris Bloomed

There is a smell that takes me by surprise every year, a smell that signals the start of summer, a smell so subtle, but distinctive that it turns my head into the breeze, igniting my Precambrian brain like the animal that I am: daylillies. They smell slightly bleachy, which reminds me of all the hours spent around the swimming pool, the scent of chlorine triggering a host of very pleasant memories.

the scent of summer

the scent of summer

Daylillies are such simple sturdy fleeting country flowers. They have insinuated themselves so solidly around these parts that the air this week is filled with their scent, the orange blossom catching your eye at every turn. There is no escape, but then why would you want to? A couple of weeks ago it was honeysuckle, more subtle but just as distinctive, draping every bush and natural surface available, every empty lot and curbside, every field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow…well you get the idea. Blankets of the stuff everywhere you looked, the delicate little blossoms masking the insidious nature of a vine that ultimately consumes its host. None of which matters while its scent floods the air. All your brain can think is: SUMMER!

peony: done

peony: done

This is the week when everything seems to be in stasis. Very few flowers are blooming (save the glorious daylily). The days are hot, good lord they are hot, and the nights blessedly cool, sweater cool. With afternoon rains the norm it’s been next to impossible to get the lawn mowed so the clover is up in force, which brings the bees, which means you really can’t walk through the tall grass without boots on or the bees will sting you between your toes because that’s where the clover blossoms get caught. The lush green, the verdant ripeness of all points on the compass is impenetrable. At night the fireflies twinkle turning the Two Acre Eden into a magic fairyland of sparkling lights. This beauty moves me deeply and fills me with a contentedness that is difficult to articulate: it feels a lot like love.

a table full of blue - love in the mist and iris

a table full of blue – love in the mist and iris

By next week the property will be a riot of color: astilbe, aster, hosta, hydrangea, coneflower, clematis, dahlia (I know! already!) daisy, primrose, rose, and who knows whatall.

late spring sprawl of african iris

late spring sprawl of african iris

While the earth is in stasis (though it never is really) my life has undergone another major shift. As much as I resist change, I think the events of this year have made me hardier toward it. Nature teaches me that nothing ever stays the same; even the mightiest of trees can be brought down by the weight of its own fruit and a changeable wind, so I ought to be able to weather this latest lovely development just fine. Though I was happy to take a new job in April, I was recently offered another and I gladly accepted. I did not seek this job, it came to me on a velvet tray of “You were the one we thought of first.” What a great compliment and ego boost. So I leave the thing that I have been doing well for far too long behind and start back up with the thing I have meant to be doing all along, more or less. It’s a full circle thing and I am astonished by its approaching reality. July 1 is my start date.

bed of iris and foxglove next to the porch

bed of iris and foxglove next to the porch

Between the new job and my last post a lot has happened inside the gates over the last month, which makes my whole statement about stasis laughable. After the majority of iris bloomed I had a VIP visit from one of my lovely friends to whom I frequently write this blog. I have a handful of friends near and far that I keep in mind when I write, in Wisconsin and Winter Park, NYC and LA, over in Cylde and down Craigmont, but this VIP had never stepped foot inside the heaven of our property and I was very excited for her visit. I could not have felt an outpouring of pure love more profound than when I laid my eyes on this woman who has meant so much to me over the years. My heart ached when she pulled away, too soon, hopefully with the breadth of what we have achieved, what nature has achieved, emblazoned in her memory so that these writings are that much more vivid.

don't let go, the scene at parting

don’t let go, the scene at parting

Cheryl…you’re next.

Patty Griffin at the Orange Peel. You can see from the way she holds her mouth how she gets her unique tone.

Patty Griffin at the Orange Peel. You can see from the way she holds her mouth how she gets her unique tone.

I went to see the wonderful musician Patty Griffin and could not have had a better time, even if the venue had had chairs, which it did not and led all five one of me to wiggle my way to the front and see the entire show just feet from the stage! By the time the corn was safely up and no longer in jeopardy from the crows our friends Heather and Annah fulfilled their hearts desire and had a baby boy who they have named Henry. We got to hold him just days after he was born. Is there anything more wonderful than a newborn baby? Just as the currants became ripe we went to a lavender festival and, among other things, watched baby goats be bottle fed. Now I very much want to get some lavender started (we’ve nixed the goats. See: From Zero to Fifty) but I don’t think our conditions are conducive for it to thrive. We are too wet, with not enough direct sun where we want it to go. You can’t force something to grow where it’s not meant to. Thriving is what it’s all about: Finding the right conditions and setting down roots, drinking in the air and absorbing the light to thrive.

if you love (and bottle feed) them they will come

if you love (and bottle feed) them they will thrive

From Zero to Fifty

Finally. A series of warm blue-sky days has lifted the spirits of everyone in the region. It is as if we have emerged from an igloo after a long brutal winter; people are walking with heads held high, smiles on their faces, sidewalks crowded with city people fleeing their lives for a slower more beautiful alternative. The blooming is upon us. Much has transpired in the past few weeks.

spring is busting out all over: peony

spring is busting out all over: peony

 While I proclaimed the Dahlia Diva no more, it’s clear public opinion will just not let her go quietly into the night.  As I wrote in a previous post, after mentioning to fellow growers my inability to successfully overwinter my tubers and suffering a total loss of my stock, I was gifted a good many tubers at a Dahlia Society function. Of those, several were not producing any visible sprouts after I planted them in pots and stored them on the porch to protect them from the cold, which persisted after Mothers Day. This anticipated cold snap was late this year and several days beyond the traditional seasonal cut off. Popular wisdom is that it’s safe to plant on Mother’s Day when “all danger of frost is gone,” but Mother’s Day dawned frosty indeed as did several subsequent days to the point that we were draping the blueberry at night. We are safe now. The electric blanket is off the bed and my light cotton shirts are unzipped from their storage bag.

Calligraphy from Squeekums

Calligraphy from Squeekums

Just as I was bemoaning the fact that nine of the 25 or so tubers hadn’t come to fruition, I got an email from my mentor and neighbor, the renown Dahlia expert and all round gallant gentleman Alan Hetzel.  “Do you need any tubers?”  he asked knowing full well my answer. Hahahaha. Need? Probably not. Want? Lord, I’m a junkie for these flowers. Of course I want, I covet, I crave. Amo, amas, amat motherfucker. I said, “Please, just a few. Only a few. Not too many.” So now 25 became 16 became 28… only to notice that the ones I thought weren’t growing are just slow. Add seven. AND THEN, the posse conspired for my birthday and ordered me some tubers online, discovering what a deal it was to order more not less. So 35 becomes 50 and I’m back in business. The 35 are now in the ground. I had only one day off this week and I spent it blissfully, head down, fully covered but for my now-tawny forearms kneeling at the garden altar, planting each tuber in a sweet soft bed of compost and potting soil. Let the growing begin!

Apple!

Apple!

With the massive winds and endless soaking rains leading up to this stretch of sunshine, down came the generations-old massive apple tree that was planted by our neighbor’s grandfather. It was so laden with blooms that the soil couldn’t hold it against the winds so down it came on to our beautiful hydrangeas (amongst other things…all of which can be saved or replaced). This makes tree number seven we have lost in the space of six months.

baby crow in distress on beaver log bench

baby crow in distress on beaver log bench

The morning the tree fell as I walked the dogs to the creek in the deluge, I noticed them veer from their usual mad dash down the hill to sniff something near the garden sitting on the beaver bench (an ingeniously stable moveable bench made of old garden implements and a log expertly chewed to pencil sharpness). There sat a very wet crow, with no intention of moving. I shooed the dogs away, rolled the wheel barrow close to the sizable bird, and turned it on its side so the bird had some shelter. I pointed it out to Julia. Calls were made, the bird identified as a baby or fledgling who had perhaps been blown from the nest or off its course in flight. “Crows mate for life,” our friend the bird rehabilitator told us. “They usually fly in groups of about five called a ‘murder’ (which we knew and think is the best group name ever) and the parents for sure know where that fledgling is. Be patient,” but she said if the parents don’t rescue it, contact her again the following day. As we stood rapt at the window, unable to focus on inside work that needed doing, we saw the glossy black parents swoop down cawing madly a couple three times. The pitiful cries issued from the craned neck of the baby were heartbreaking. It hopped to the makeshift shelter and then hopped back out, hours passed. Never the rain did cease. There were no more fly-bys. By 4pm Julia could stand it no more, wrapped the bird in a towel and transferred it to the shelter of the fallen tree. By morning it was dead. We buried it with tearful ceremony. Brutal nature, just brutal.

more flooding at the creek

more flooding at the creek

It has never failed that the Champ has a deadline or pressing highly detailed part of her work to accomplish that a stray dog with a chain imbedded in its neck or a wandering 250 pound pig comes inside the gates or thereabouts needing attention. Last week was no exception. On the heels of the fledgling crow incident, with her nerves and physical reserves frayed to a nub, Julia got a call from our at-the-start-of-the-driveway neighbor about a lost baby goat. Great. A baby goat. Just what we need. Calls were made and feelers put out in a matter of minutes and the next thing you know I’m shotgun in the truck on an adventure. First stop: the neighbor suddenly fostering the lost baby goat. There, like a tiny semi-horned and cloven-hooved furry white angel was a terrified goat the size of a large cat bleating softly in the arms of our neighbor. My heart melted. I ached to hold it. I immediately started constructing an enclosure in my mind, where we might house the darling creature (as if I want or need a damn adorable goat that likes nothing better than to escape inescapable pens and eat flowers) and (heh heh heh, rub hands together conspiratorially) keep it for my own! We sought out the help of a goat-raising local who was not home, then speculated on housing alternatives as we drove the three minutes home only to find that the goat’s owner had tracked it down and gratefully taken it away. The push pull that goes on in my heart is just astonishing. I was crestfallen and SOOOO relieved.

very dramatic smoke tree poised to bloom (at 60' mark)

very dramatic smoke tree poised to bloom (at 60′ mark)

Today the sun shines again. Tomorrow it will rain. If I wasn’t constantly exposed to and observant of the drama nature provides, I might just be destroyed by the height of the waves, the repercussion of the swings. Lows: I have pulled half a dozen ticks off my head and neck despite wearing a hat wherever I go in the yard. While the tiller has been repaired and put into service, the line trimmer (aka bane of my existence) has finally given up the ghost. The Champ’s Greensboro installation is on temporary hold.

boot upgrade

boot upgrade

Highs: But/And she got the Roanoke job! (I’m super proud.) I got fabulous new Muck boots for my birthday, fabulous incredibly soft bedding, news of a yet-to-be-delivered fabulous new digging/gardening tool, and tons and tons of love. Did I say my birthday was fabulous? The screened porch has been rescreened. I hit the most dead-on Bulls Eye ever from the 60’ mark. There are goslings and ducklings waddling around the town lake in yellow tufted abundance. Like Hollywood starlets, everything has a brief season to be spectacular and then is gone. Iris this week, peony and love-in-the-mist next week, lupine and foxglove over the next ten days. Let’s make the most of it while we can.

Iris:sexy starlet ready for her close-up

Iris:sexy starlet ready for her close-up

Arrows Before Breakfast

The rain is coming down in buckets. That’s OK. We’ve had many heavenly breezy bright sunshiny days with the temperatures dropping precipitously at night, swings typical of springtime. Frankly if it wasn’t raining I’d be out in the garden sinking my rebar stakes for the dahlia, and I’m tired this rainy Sunday and appreciate an excuse to curl up under the blankets with the computer on my lap.

Buster in the burgeoning ferns

Buster in the burgeoning ferns

Much has happened since my last post. Great communion with friends here and there, walking and sitting, side by side and over the phone.  One of the junior posse came over to pull honeysuckle along a bank.  Julia’s sister came in town, and though I was working and didn’t get much chance to visit, just having her in the house was nice. Tonight I will participate in a cocktail soaked (though none for me) gathering of the bridesmaids. Yay!

mayapple and hosta at the creek

mayapple and hosta at the creek

Garden report: Good news friends, the world turns as hoped. Everything is growing! The last hold out on the docket was the asparagus, the patch toward which I would drift each morning on my way to the creek with the dogs and stare longingly. Nothing. Until a couple of days ago. I leaned over and there were the beautiful aubergine heads flecked with green thrusting valiantly through the mulch. Beating the asparagus to the punch are the almost fully open hosta, trillium, mayapple, columbine, lily of the valley and bleeding heart. I bought some herbs and planted them near the kitchen. Banks of iris line the garden beds with tall stalks of potential flowers parting the leaf fans. All of the peonies are up and showing beautiful glistening buds. Soon the ants will come to gobble their sugars. The trees have mostly lost their flowers and are moving on to leaf and fruiting stages, though the apples are a thick pastel of blooming. Whatever efforts we made to keep the blueberry safe from the cold have worked (as have the bees) because the thing is going to be dripping with berries this year, I can feel it. I have already put the fencing around it which will act as an armature for the bird netting. There are enough things in this yard for the birds to eat; they can’t have our blueberries or raspberries thank you berry much.

the first of many iris

the first of many iris

I spent the whole of one gorgeous day sacrificing to the garden gods all of the weeds that insinuated themselves over the winter. I hand cultivate, so it was a serious workout and tremendously gratifying to be deep in the soil. I marked a pattern with my ancient row line and worked my way down each one to make space for the dahlia. The remaining third of the garden which has not been hand cleared by Julia or me will come under attack by the tiller once it comes home from the shop. We are late getting in the greens and cool weather spring crops. Chalk that up to being gainfully employed and super busy at that. Thank god for the grocery store, Right? Everything is so beautiful, so saturated with color, it takes my breath away.

fully saturated pink azalea

fully saturated pink azalea

Love report: When the pieces come back from the painter I will offer a shot of Julia’s latest project whose installation may or may not be delayed depending on the good sense, or not, of the people of Greensboro. She is amazing and brilliant and super-emotionally intelligent and overthetop creative and MAN! Am I ever lucky! The good people of Greensboro are lucky too they just don’t know how until they get this piece bolted to their sidewalk. Then they will say, “We should have paid her more,” or “Wow we sure got more than our money’s worth because this is the most wonderful thing we have ever seen! This is so much more wonderful than we EVER could have anticipated.” The Champ does it again.

Mazie modelling on the new floor

Mazie modelling on the new floor

Home Improvement report: The porch project is coming along nicely. The floor is complete and now a glossy expanse of uninterrupted creamy consistency. The screen has yet to be replaced, but in the meantime we’ve managed to reaffix it with chewing gum and wishful thinking just to keep the birds out. House wrens had been eyeing the rafters and we didn’t want them to set up shop only to have the new screen come when the babies were born. Off the kitchen porch, Julia thinks there is a nest in the cow skull again. Yikes.

New Job report: Day one of my new job came with so much distressing information that was not disclosed to me at the interview that I was more than slightly out of sorts. Oh shit. The next morning I was trudging up the hill from the creek brooding, brow furrowed, steam practically coming from my shirt collar I was so immersed in thoughts of what the hell have I gotten myself into? In the weeks leading up to the start date I was trying hard not to have any pre-conceived notions of what this new chapter may bring, to be open and accepting, but I was thrown a curve ball and had no idea if I wanted to catch the damn thing. When I topped the hill I heard the target calling my name so I grabbed my quiver and started shooting.

Improvised Quiver

Improvised Quiver

 The quiver is an old fireworks tube that “shoots flaming balls” illegal in North Carolina but shot nonetheless to many oohs and aaahs. Last year the grass made it a challenge to keep the quiver upright especially on a windy day, so recently I counter sunk a couple of square granite samples at 40’ and 60’ from the target so I would have a consistent distance and platform from which to shoot. Worked like a charm. 

fabulously disorienting texture perspective seen at the 60' mark (smoke tree, azalea and redbud)

fabulously disorienting texture perspective seen at the 60′ mark (smoke tree, azalea and redbud)

Arrows before breakfast. You know something’s up that needs to be released when I haven’t even dug into my giant bowl of fruit and granola before I’m sinking arrows into styrofoam. I put all my funk into that arrow and let it go. I center myself, aim and focus and breathe and release. I guess I could drive to the gym and take a yoga class and get the same result, but this was over in a few minutes, extremely effective.  My mind opened and I stayed that way for the rest of the day, with a little extra coaching and support from the Champ. First day jitters. Subsequent days of the new chapter proved to be fruitful and positive, easy and blessedly stress free, many of my original fears unfounded. All will be well and much much better than before. Subsequent days have had me shooting arrows at all times and in windy conditions with great success. I have high hopes for the future.

And...release

And…release

Spring Dun Sprung

The forsythia is outrageous. Whole banks of yellow flank me as I walk to the creek. Everywhere the growth is rampant. I know this growth never stops, not in the winter, not when shrouded in ice, not when hidden under mulch. The evidence of such is making itself known in these past few sunny warm perfect spring days. (To be sung, or delivered with an Oprah-style vibrato on the last syllable) At laaasssst!

forsythia: outrageously beautiful

forsythia: outrageously beautiful

Like the hosta and the tulips and the peonies, for two months I dwelled in a state of underground readiness. The blow of losing my job at the end of January forced me to consider my options and a more productive future. I followed the directive of diligent looking and positive thinking and dreaming outside my preconceived box. I knew the window of opportunity would be narrow, the hiring season quick, so I worked to be the first person in line when the door opened. Wadda ya know but it worked! I got several offers, of which I chose the one I had wanted from the beginning.

hosta tongues licking the air

hosta tongues licking the air

With that item out of the way and some time before the job starts, I can hunker down, stress free and do something productive. Not that getting a better job and dreaming big aren’t productive, they certainly are. But they are also exhausting, partly because in my case I really felt like it was the old “fake it til you make it,” adage come to life. Despite my forward movement, my heart was in chaos and my mind was screwing with me by repeatedly suggesting the best I could hope for was working in a Huddle House. Ha! Chin up and look what happens.

porch floor: not all it's "cracked" up to be

porch floor: not all it’s “cracked” up to be

Now down to domestic bliss and the projects at hand inside the gates. In the pre-Christmas wind storm the screen was torn off the screen porch. Over the years the painted floor in there has become increasingly beat up and it was time for a face lift. Before we get the people to come fix the screen which requires scaffolding and more than one set of hands, I decided to repaint the floor. I had a few dry days come up in the forecast so I jumped on it. Painting is a lot like gardening in that it is weather dependent. I think it’s so funny how you will see usually on weekend morning TV teasers for Home Depot or Lowes (Never stop improving: isn’t that a great tag?) where they say, “All you need is…”or, “All you have to do…” That’s a joke between the Champ and I, because the project may only need five tools and a can of paint but it takes 10 hours of prep if you want the work to last, and it’s never as simple as they say. True to form, three trips to the hardware store and a host of mishaps later, the floor is drying and should be ready to rock in a few days. Total time commitment: 10 days. Remember that when you hear, “All you gotta do…”

so simple

so simple

Dahlia update: As you may remember from a previous post all my tubers molded and withered and basically croaked over the winter. Despite following all the rules, something went wrong and I was unable to stop the spread of the mold across the entire population of 1000+ tubers. So to hell with the tubers. To hell with having almost 100 plants that need daily care. I declared the Dahlia Diva no more and was ready to move on. Then I got an email from the Dahlia Society about a big cutting and packing party out at a member’s farm. It’s like knowing someone in another county has a drug that you know you don’t want to do anymore (insert your drug of choice here), but you can’t help yourself and drive the 45 minutes anyway…just to “visit.” It’s hilarious how I kid myself, delusional, seriously. I drove out there and we all worked together to get his gadjillion beautifully overwintered tubers bagged and tagged and in the process a couple of delightful good ole boy farmer types  set me up with a box beneath my station and kept dropping tubers in it.  “This un ul do ya good. It’s a winner.” “She’s a big ole beauty.” “This un here is as close to black as yer gonna find.” Did I want/need a black dahlia? I did not, but now I have one, along with about 25 others and the process starts again. I’m a junkie.

pastel pillows of phlox

pastel pillows of phlox

Of Note: The bleeding heart I was foraging for came up, as did every other thing and more. I haven’t seen any evidence of the asparagus yet, but I know it will emerge when it’s ready. There was a spray of flicker feathers (again!) down at the Killing Log, which we both found to be absolutely amazing, a gruesome Rite of Spring. I got out my bow and arrows and shot with some accuracy into the target yesterday. Aaah. Several times Julia has spotted a white or albino robin in the yard flocking just shy of the other birds. When the rain has come, it has come with a vengance, but I’m happy to report my sand redistribution project held up against the flood.

the banks runneth over

the banks runneth over

The blueberry survived the cold snap, of which I feel certain there will be another before Mother’s Day. All the apples are in full bloom and the creeping phlox is a pastel pillow dripping from every rock wall and slope in the region. The pears over the past few days have been littering the whole town with their delicate white blossoms. We are plotting the garden and will plant over the next month, sooner if Julia can get the tiller to run. The lawn has been mowed now twice and I hit the borders with the weed whacker making everything all neat and tidy. Unfortunately a couple of ladies from the Gastonia Master Gardeners came to preview our yard for a late July outing with 23 others in their group. I tried to help them envision what July would have in store for them, but as we were walking around all I could see was the storm debris and the things that needed to be accomplished. Given that they are master gardeners I think they saw the potential.  In the space of a few days, in between coats of paint much has gotten done and I’m feeling very hopeful.  In a few days I start a new chapter of my life. It feels good.

perfect primrose

perfect primrose

That Beautiful Shore

Spring arrived this week with a light coating of snow and frigid winds. Like a long-awaited, boisterous houseguest, now that the cold is finally here, I am eager to have it leave. Inside the gates there are so many signs of life and promise it makes my head reel. The potential of certain late spring bloomers captures my imagination and throws me to my knees. I’ll be walking through the yard and it will seize me: I wonder how the peonys are doing!?! Squirrel-like I rummage through the duff, throwing leaf matter and mulch off to the side to see if they have survived the winter. Sure enough there they are, reliable as ever, poking up like vibrant lipstick through the decaying old growth.  I was searching around in the big extension bed under the massive maple tree looking for a hint of the bleeding heart that always shows itself this time of year only to discover I was tromping on the fledgling astilbe and hosta, hearing a sickening crunch with every clumsy step to avoid them. There is a beautiful little poppy in that bed that started showing green a month ago, growing more hearty with each dusting of snow. The blueberry that was covered in ice a few weeks ago just started opening its flowers, as have the forsythia, quince and pear blossoms. By Easter the property will be a riot of color with the creeping phlox dripping over everything, and all the hyacinths, tulips and blooming ground-covers scattered everywhere. Ahhh: life.

blooming pear blossom

blooming pear blossom

Spring is filled with drama: joy and sorrow, survival and loss, all the elements of a good tale. With the buds a bursting, the squirrels skittering and the birds noisy with activity I get the impression we all feel a similar restlessness. The lure of warmth has everybody ripping their winter coats off to run with the warm breeze through their hair only to find they’ve ventured out too far when the weather turns and they’re stuck in the freezing wet, without protection, spent from exertion, no resources to save themselves. Awful. Like the old Reader’s Digest feature Drama in True Life that always started with an upbeat passage like, “ 7:55 am: Mona and Tom pack lightly for a picnic lunch on the bluff.” Fun turns to tragedy in three easy pages. It was like that last year around this time when we went on a road trip, but on a much less human scale. With the Two Acre Eden a state or two to the east, and the changeable Appalachian weather off our radar, we neglected to warn our faithful friend and housesitter about the tender blueberry buds that needed to be covered.  Unprotected over two bitter nights these beautiful balls of potential froze and dropped off the bush, pale and withered. All the fruit trees and bushes were stunted from the season’s last vicious frigid push, so we got no apples or raspberries or blueberries. TRAGIC. I’m surprised the Reader’s Digest people weren’t beating down the door for further insight. The apple tree in the memorial bed had been pruned a few weeks before, (probably not the best timing) so when the freeze hit, well, a beautiful tree was lost, killed in the prime of its life.

killed in the prime of life

remains of the frozen apple tree

So much of this is out of our control. Over time we have learned to accept the losses spring brings. We can’t throw a blanket over a thirty foot apple tree, or spray it with water so the ice will protect it like they do the oranges in Florida, though believe me there have been years when the entire yard was draped like a Christo installation. Now we pick and choose.  So for the past few nights as temperatures have dropped into the 20s, we’ve covered the blueberry with a sheet in the hope that if we are diligent we can have fruit three months from now.

pie's a comin'!

rhubarb unfurling

It’s an interesting thing about spring. The yin and yang of it. The cellular instinct to sprout, grow, thrive, bloom, reproduce, fade and die exists with all living things yet remains mysterious. No amount of scientific understanding can contain my fascination with the process. It just blows my mind. Keeping my hands in the dirt reminds me that everything is as it should be, that wonder is everywhere, and there is power in the unpredictable. Nature, for me, reflects the challenges of faith. Faith feels a hard thing to maintain when so many factors work against it. Will the sun come up tomorrow? Will winter turn to spring? Will the birds migrate on time? Will the fledglings learn to fly? Sometimes yes (in the case of the sun, thank god) and sometimes no (in the case of the baby birds: see previous post “It’s All Downhill From Here”). It’s hard to believe in January when the daffodils start jutting though the cold ground that they have the proper instinct to wait and open as they did last week. It’s hard to believe an organism no matter how simple or complex has an internal clock that regulates that sort of mechanism, that it can regulate its blooming and dying based on what? Ground temperatures, moon phases, ambient moisture, the presence of love? And yet they do know somehow…Unless it freezes at just the wrong time and then they’re doomed, hopefully just for a season. Perhaps that loss makes the plant stronger.

sure is purdy

daffodils/jonquils

I had the privilege of supporting my dear Tybee Island friend as his mother lay dying in a hospice last week. We sat on either side of her clean crisp sheeted bed and held her frail bone-thin hands as sunlight poured through the windows. We watched her delicate breathing so persistent yet fleeting for sure, because there is usually only one outcome for a 90-year-old in a hospice. It was such a beautiful thing to see this resilient, caring woman so comfortable and peaceful on her way out after a long interesting life, surrounded by so many of the loved and loving. We waited and waited, knowing the end was near, wanting to be present for her as she had been for us. Like the daffodil her body and spirit had its own agenda mysterious to us and the hospice staff because she hung on for far longer than predicted, stronger apparently than the pale curled shell of her body indicated, finally yielding to a place beyond the lovely peace she had at last achieved. What a mystery it all is. Life and death, yin and yang, seasons taking their own sweet time, following the course set by whatever power or force that created them. And it’s interesting how life-affirming death is, how powerful the process is, how perfectly natural.  

Quince

Quince

“In the sweet (in the sweet) by and by (by and by) we will meet on that beautiful shore.”

Rare Birds

Here on the cusp of spring, winter has finally arrived. Last week we had an “ice event.” The temperature dropped and the seemingly endless rain turned to ice transforming every branch, leaf and blade of grass into a magic, crystalline encasement of fleeting beauty. By the time I walked the dogs down to the creek after breakfast it was falling like tubes of shrapnel.

icing on the smoke tree with frozen redbud in background

icing on the smoke tree with frozen redbud in background

As I came up the hill I saw that the only casualty was the stalwart cherry tree in the Easter bed that had been damaged by hurricane Francis in 2004. That year the winds racing up from the Gulf had thrown the majority of the tree on to the ground, with only a low hanging branch standing  upright; upright it remained until last week when it could hold on no longer.

cherry tree's last gasp: RIP

cherry tree’s last gasp: RIP

I examined its upturned ant compromised root system until the cold drove me inside. Within a few hours all the gorgeous ice had melted and the Two Acre Eden was returned to pools of bitter dank wet. But when I drove off the property and got to a point where the vista opened up I could see a demarcation in the higher elevations where the ice remained, a lacy filigree with foggy clouds drifting past, a wonderland of crisp reflective winter.  Breathtaking. We live here.

blueberry encased in ice

blueberry encased in ice

Last night the winds were blowing with such sustained ferocity that I thought the roof would peel off. Then I fell asleep. There’s nothing like a good weather event to put me right out. This morning the ground was a blanket of white, the distant mountains shrouded in blowing snow. And while the weather caster in a more northerly county was announcing the road closures with giant flakes falling all around her, out my window tiny pellets swept past and have continued to do so all day, despite the rising temperature. What once was, is now gone and the ground is returned to a sodden mess. All through the day I have watched the trees buffeted by the ongoing winds. It is a miracle they can withstand such punishment, majestic pines flailing like eager game show contestants, sturdy poplars barely registering the onslaught, and the flexible oaks with leaves tentatively clinging. Soon the new leaves will push the old ones off and THEN spring will really be here.

oak leaf hanging on

oak leaf hanging on

I was walking the dogs around the lake today, horizontal snow pellets blowing at us until our eyes watered. I was marveling at all the bird life. The ducks and geese carrying on as if nothing were unusual, chatting away in little groups. The blue jays must be trolling for mates because they are unusually screechy, a little more show-offy in their flight patterns. Then again it could have been the wind. I’ve been seeing all the different kinds of woodpeckers we have around here, the common flicker and red-bellied coming to the suet feeder. There was a giant Pileated, with its distinctive caw drawing my attention upward there at the lake earlier in the week, flinging wood chips down on my head and flying away just as I got the camera ready for its close up. House wrens have taken up in one of our collection in the Nest Museum, scaring the bejesus out of me with their flash and furious wing beating whenever I exit from the kitchen door. You’d think I would learn. Crows as big as chickens screech across the property…or they might be drones. Then the best sighting of all: two hoodied teenaged girls were laying on their stomachs side by side on the wet empty tennis court impervious to the freezing damp and the blowing snow, birds of a species most marvelous.

Black Gold

Get this: Two days ago it was 64 degrees. A beautiful sunny day with a light breeze blowing, birds singing. It matched my personal forecast I am happy to report. Each day I grow stronger and more secure, each action giving me the hope of a new future with deeper meaning and less stress. Forward movement is my gospel. Which means I can only craft cover letters and tailor resumes for so many hours before a beautiful day, or, as is more often the case because it is rainy and cold, just the fresh air beacons me outside. It is so much easier to dream, to “visualize” my hoped for future when I am working in the yard. Last week when I was still hurt and angry I split wood, because being hurt and angry makes me resentful. I needed something to release all that yuck on. Earlier in the week when I was leaving the past behind and focusing on new possibilities I went down to the creek and raked up debris and reshaped the contours of the creek banks. A few days ago, though it was in the 50s and the sun broke through the dark clouds giving the sky that dramatic chiaroscuro effect of a Maxfield Parrish watercolor (minus the naked nymphs), I couldn’t shake a chill because the wind was blowing with a vengeance. I wore my hat indoors most of the day, but still went out between cover letters and picked up sticks for an hour. Little by little we are chipping away at the flood damage and restoring the Two Acre Eden to our standard of beauty, which isn’t that hard, because it is always beautiful if you look properly.

Quince blossoms ready to burst

Quince blossoms ready to burst

Then the sun came out and the temp reached 64. After meeting my looking-for-work quota I had to get out in the sunshine and do something, so I turned the compost, a chore long over due. I started out in turtleneck, sweater and vest. Soon into the process I shed the vest, and then a quarter into the labor of turning – off came the shirt and sweater and there I was in my bra. This, my friends, is one of the huge advantages of so much property: there is no way anyone would ever wander up or look down from above or stumble upon me. I was completely alone, but for the dogs who so love this compost turning because it offers them rotten morsels to sneak away and ingest, the vaporous traces of which would become apparent later as we gathered by the wood stove. So be it.

compost zone two: working bin

compost zone two: working bin

Anyone who has taken a tour inside the gates that open inward will know that I love my compost. There is nothing like taking garbage and making it into something useful. Just like Doc in “Back to the Future” who fuels his DeLorean with garbage, my garden is super-charged as a result of a heapin’ helpin’ of this black gold. This particular alchemy takes quite a bit of effort.

I probably make the process more complex than it needs to be, a bit like my mother folding plastic garbage bags before she puts them in her recycling bin, but it’s my system… for now. We keep a stainless steel container under the kitchen sink counter into which we toss all organic kitchen waste, the egg shells, lettuce rinds, coffee grounds, etc. It fills up quickly. We dump that into a larger five gallon bucket that lives, unseen and unsmelled, about 100 feet from the back door. When we dump the kitchen container we add some lime to speed the decomposition process. When this upper bucket fills the real work begins.

where we dump the kitchen waste, plus lime

where we dump the kitchen waste, plus lime

Over the 14 years that we have lived here we have tried various methods for dealing with compost in a productive way but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I hit on a procedure and storage area that really was useful to our gardening purposes. Some history: Our first container was a metal trash can with holes drilled in it for aeration. Eventually the bottom rotted out of that receptacle. Then we started using a PVC barrel of the sort you might use to capture water from your down spout. This was a 50-gallon container that took a good year to fill half way up to the point of needing to be dumped. And it was manageable unless I neglected to dump it.

Then the problem comes: Fifty gallons of rotted kitchen waste is super heavy and horribly stinky. Because I had allowed this to happen I enlisted the help of a neighbor boy who was always eager for odd jobs. He had a learning disability of some kind and a debilitating stutter that would contort his face and leave him breathless from the struggle. He also had an absolutely incredible beautiful young man body. There was a bit of rebel and bravado in his personality probably built as a defense against his shortcomings. I would frequently see him riding his bike down to the convenience store and viciously smoking cigarettes with his stunning bemuscled arms whipping the cigarette from his mouth that jawed perfect smoke rings on the exhale. He struck me as gay, but who’s to say? I never asked. He lived in the rental property next door with a man on disability who was his “father.” Whatever their arrangement the boy seemed taken care of and loved. He was forever posting on the community bulletin boards new services he was capable of performing: house sitting, dog walking, car detailing, that sort of thing, which is so sweet here in the wholesome mountains. If he had lived in the city I feel certain he would have been a hustler, so beautiful and dim was he that he would have made a mint standing on a corner with his ripped midriff exposed.

I figured since he was so strapping and eager to work, he was just the man for the compost job. The barrel was full of decomposed food, very similar in fact to what might happen to food in the stomach and therefore smelling very much like vomit or excrement. Friends you have never seen, this side of a reality show exotic foods eating contest, so much gagging and retching in your life. It was Oscar-worthy how he carried on. Because I had allowed the barrel to fill almost to the top, we needed to off load some of the contents so that we could make the barrel light enough  either to lift or roll down the hill. Said contents would be transferred to a wheel barrow and were very heavy, wet and noxious. I warned him to breathe through his mouth, but I think even the bubbling fermenting visual was too much for him. He would plunge the shovel in and meeting the sucking putrid resistance, gag, with a rolling physical recoil that comes with upheaval, pull the shovel out a bit, dramatically undulate, gag, cough, hack and have to step away. “Oh God! Good Lord! Jesus Christ!” the religious proclamations/testaments of faith/blasphemy were not enough to help him muscle his way through. So I did it. Meanwhile he moved to the deck where he whipped his cigarette to and from his mouth, flexed his beautiful arms, exhaled propulsive streams of smoke and moaned. After much effort on my part, the barrel was light enough for us to roll down the hill to the concrete block-lined area where over the years we had dumped all previous buckets, a sight that eventually caused him to abandon the project and go home several dollars richer. After that he avoided me. 

crap boots held together with duct tape

crap boots held together with duct tape

A few years ago, after the neighbor boy gagging incident I made a proper compost area that could be managed singlehandedly. So in my bra and old jeans and rinseable boots (pretty!) I transferred the contents of each area into the next. I pitch forked leaves and decomposing garbage out of each zone, rotating the contents and turning it before returning it to its next home.

black gold

black gold

The final zone is filled with what will soon top the garden before we plant it for the spring. Such hope. Such promise. Such nourishment..from garbage. As soon as I was done the clouds moved in and the temperature dropped. That night it snowed in “the higher elevations,” which usually means northern counties and around the Tennessee line. But then yesterday I took the dogs on a nearby mountain trail that was coated in a thin layer of icy snow. Higher elevations indeed! As you can see from the smiles on their faces they loved it. This morning the sun shines again: Outlook positive.

Buster and Mazie on Rainbow Trail

Buster and Mazie on Rainbow Trail

Clarification

Dear Readers, I’d like to make a clarification. Based on some comments I have received, I’m afraid my last post was confusingly vague. So here’s the low down: I am whomped not because the creek done rose up and warshed away the bridges, but because our dear sweet neighbor died of a heart attack while his wife of 47 years made him dinner. So sudden. So final. So alone she is now. I am whomped because the next day I lost my job which gave me financial security, contact with many people for whom I care deeply and tons of free time to play in the yard and travel. This is the one two punch of loss to which I can see now I too vaguely referred. I was hoping the vagueness of my reference would make the piece more universal, but what is more universal these days than job loss and death? The fact that the landscape here on the Two Acre Eden has shifted is part of life. It does not upset me. It heals me. It adds unexpected work, but that’s what it’s all about: being engaged inside the gates that open inward. I’m sorry for the trees, but more will grow, and I’m sorry about the moss, but sand is good too.

life is a sandy beach

life is a sandy beach

Change is inevitable, it just sucks when the change means you have to print up a resume after 15 years of gainful employment. It sucks when the dinner from here on out for my doting neighbor is cooked for one.  

iconic tree roots in Greenville

iconic tree roots in Greenville

I have to add that I am also whomped because in the high school cheer I spelled “womp” and then later I spelled it “whomp,” which is the spelling I prefer. That sort of oversight mortifies me and makes me long for an editor, or at least the patience to be more cautious before I hit “publish.” On the other hand, I fear that if I were that vigilant I may never hit the button and I’d rather you see my flaws than nothing at all. Who am I kidding anyway to think you all can’t see the flaws I works so hard to hide. The only person I kid there would be me.  Thanks again for your support. The Shalady.