In the Heat

Word has spread and Monarchs are coming to enjoy my butterfly bush. It’s a joy to see these orange nymphs flitting about in the garden. They tend to appear in the afternoon, when the day is the hottest. They’re joined by the hummers, the chattering squirrels and the bees. It’s really quite noisy in the stillness of the warmth.

I’m contemplating installing a gurgling fountain where the birds can bathe, the cats lap up water and the squirrels can have a splash party. I’d put out my favorite rocking chair and be entertained for hours. A friend of mine loves to sit out in her garden, among the flowers, reading her books, with one eye to the wildlife around her. She’s done that in every place she lived, including Beijing. Now she’s in a retirement community and only has a balcony, but that hasn’t stopped her. Her little spot is overflowing with potted flowers and greens, and she’s out there every day with her coffee and books. I’m learning to follow in her footsteps.

“Your footsteps keep you indoors,” Alf said.

“I’m working, that’s why,” I said.

“You’ve heard the word laptop?”

“Of course, silly.”

“That’s what it’s for, your lap, anywhere,” he said.

“My lap gets too hot, then I run out of battery, and I lose focus because the entertainment around me pulls me away,” I said.

“Excuses. Make it work, find the right spot, under the lemon tree, by the garden angel, next to the maple,” he said.

“What if a lemon lands on my keyboard?”

“Make a lemon tart,” Alf said.

Calvin says, “You forgot to include my panting in the heat as part of the entertainment.”

 

 

 

Under the Roof

My orange tree is almost white with blossoms. It looks like snow. The fragrance is intoxicating, especially at sunset and sunrise. I put myself in a chair under the tree today to take in the spectacle under the branches. The bees were humming and doing a happy dance in and out of the flowers. The hummingbirds flitted from branch to branch. As I looked up I could see touches of blue sky in between the leaves. Suddenly I heard rustling and the tree began to shake, blossoms came down like rain, and then the thump of oranges around me. I couldn’t see them, but it was those pesky squirrels again, racing in and out of the branches, almost laughing.

Our house is under the flight path to three airports. It’s normal to see planes come in for a landing every five minutes. From big wide-bodies to smaller commute aircraft, it’s my thrill to see these planes arrive. They are so low I can make out the airline. Even see the pilot wave at me. Today, because of the lock-down, there was only one or two that came in. Probably with six flight attendants pampering one passenger with first-class treatment. Now is the time to fly if you can get past security.

Occasionally I will see gulls fly overhead. When that happens I know it’s going to rain. That’s when I stand outside and wait for the big drops to hit.

Calvin says, “And I dash inside. I hate a bath.”

Coexistence

The orange tree in our backyard is bursting with blossoms. As I walk by it, I hear the happy sounds of our humming bees wiggle in and out of the blossoms. The tree is alive with activity and noise. What surprises me are the hummingbirds. They too are flitting in and out of the blossoms, drinking in their elixir. They are intoxicated. They stop frequently to rest, look around, chirp with the others, and then resume their feeding. They don’t seem to skirt the bees. Nor are they cautious around them. Both bees and hummers co-exist in one tree.

Now the squirrels are another story. Those nasty critters are pulling off our oranges, taking a big bite out of them, and throwing the rest of the fruit on the ground. I notice they don’t touch the lemons or the grapefruit. They like sweet. They have good taste, but in an indulgent and thoughtless way.

Yesterday morning I noticed a tight bud on a geranium bush, and by late afternoon it had flowered. Had I know it would happen this fast, I would have pulled up a chair to watch it, like a time-lapse video.

I’m waiting for the blue jays to pop in anytime soon. They are nuisances. They wait on the roof top for bee activity and then swoop in and grab one in their beaks and swallow it whole. I wonder if the bee, in its last moments of life, stings the bird’s gullet all the way down to its stomach.

Calvin says, “Beware of those bees. I’ve had a few land on my nose and it’s terrifying. I shake them off and then run inside the house and howl.”

 

A Jungle Out There

I’ve been in lockdown since the end of March. Like most of us, it’s taken a bit of adjusting. My daughter came over to do laundry. She wore a mask and gloves the entire time and stayed in the garage. We talked in muffled sounds.

I’m getting to know my backyard quite well. That’s where I walk two miles a day. I look like a robot, back and forth, until whatever phone call I’m on is over. I’ve watched the maple tree sprout its tender leaves. Flowers are poking their heads up from the ground. Squirrels are snickering up and down the fence. My rose bushes are bursting out all over and the bees are deliriously happy.

Speaking of which, while I was doing my walk I suddenly heard a loud hum overhead. At first I thought it was my neighbor’s lawnmower. But when the sound came swirling around my face and almost into my ears I ran inside.

“Do I have any bees stuck to me?” I asked Alf.

He put down the paper and looked at me. “Do you mean the buzzing kind or something else?” Then he saw what was happening out the window. Hundreds of bees were swarming in circles in front of our eyes, taking up every inch of airspace, like a convention in the sky. We stood transfixed. Not one bee was bumping into another. They had their flight path well mapped out. The buzzing was almost deafening.

“There goes the neighborhood,” Alf said.

We continued with our projects and soon there was silence. It was as sudden as the humming. We looked out the window and the bees were gone. Not a one lingered on a flower or a tree.

“Where did they disappear to?” I asked.

“To the local pub for a drink,” Alf said.

The following day the same episode happened at the same time of the day. By then we had become pros. We left out some cut oranges on the picnic table in case they needed a snack. Instead, the squirrels pounced on the slices and flicked their tails in excitement.

Calvin says, “Thank God my doghouse is inside. They would have moved right in with all my smells.”

 

 

More Than Dirt

Alf and I got tired of the lunar look of our backyard, with its deep ruts and crevices and dead everything. We used to have steady visitors of cats and squirrels and noisy ravens, but lately even the butterflies do fly-overs instead of landing. So with the help of a longtime neighbor, who builds commercial nurseries for plants, we are working on a new garden together. photo (47)

I quickly sketched my idea of an English garden with pathways and gravel and flowering plants. Something that Alice in Wonderland would choose as she read and conversed with the Cheshire Cat.

I didn’t want a lawn. I was convinced of the versatility and beauty of drought-tolerant plants. I’m a survivor of too many droughts and didn’t want the demands of water guzzling green things anymore. They remind me of crying infants when they’re hungry. I don’t have time to invest in pruning, trimming and talking to them either. I hardly have time to do this with Alf.

I’ve been learning a few things about myself through this. I’m impatient. I thought the re-design would take a month. In my mind it was a simple idea without a lot of fuss. Dig up the dead lawn, and then stick some Woolly Bluecurls, Tree Anemones, and Sticky Monkey-flowers in there, and let them duke it out. I was wrong. I have no understanding of soil, bricks and greenery and what it takes to put all three together in an artful way. It’s taken all summer.

Another problem arose. My neighbor’s taste and mine are not in sync. It’s an act of high level diplomacy every time we disagree. We compromise. We change things. We discard stuff. Always smiling. It’s like a marriage. I’m sure he goes home muttering under his breath. But through it all, a glorious garden is coming into view, and the best part is we haven’t filed divorce papers. That’s the important thing. It may not be ready for the fall, and by winter it will be too cold for tea parties, but then there’s next year. The plants will be settled and feeling good about their new home. And maybe the squirrels and ravens will return chattering and cawing their approval.

When the project is complete, I expect my neighbor to be over many times, showcasing me as his still-friend and my garden to future drought-tolerant fans.

Calvin says, “I’m not so stinking happy. You took away my favorite pee spots.” beagle

Whites Not Allowed

As I was standing by my kitchen window a stripe of white flashed under the oleander bush. This was 6 am. I’m not that alert usually. But the movement caught my eye. I made inventory of the animals that normally visit my backyard. Squirrels. Raccoons. Bees. Ravens. Cats. But no white cat. Or my neighbor’s dog.

“We have a skunk in the garden,” I said.

“How do you know?” Alf said.

“I just do.”  IMG_3834

I waited. Out from the undergrowth there emerged a black nose sniffing in all directions, followed by a black head with two black beady eyes, and then the whole body. Its coat was thick and lush. God had taken a felt marker and drawn two brilliant white stripes down its back that merged at the tail. It’s nose kept moving. It scampered closer to the window. It wasn’t afraid of my standing there. Then in a blink it drew its tail up and fanned it out and sprayed the corner of my flower bed.

“What a odious creature,” I said.

“Why be so critical?” Alf said.

“He sprayed my touch-me-nots.”

“There’s a message in that somewhere,” Alf said.

“Fetch me the broom,” I said.

Alf went out to the garage, came back in with the broom, and handed it to me.

I went outside with broom at the ready and looked for the animal.

Gone. It had vanished.

I was going to sweep him up and dump him on the compost pile where he could gorge his little black heart out.

Calvin says, “No way. That skunk would have sprayed you first and you would’ve ended up in a bath of tomato juice.”  beagle

Crowded

We own honey bees. We didn’t invite them. They just showed up one day with suitcases and moved into a tree.

We have an agreement. They stick to their area and we stick to ours. They pollinate and fertilize and we enjoy the flowers and fruit.

“I think they know me,” my husband said recently.

“Really? How do you know?” I asked.

“They’ve never stung me,” he said.

Knowing about the worldwide shortage of bees has made me appreciate our honey bees all the more. Sometimes I think I should rent them out to distraught farmers in Lodi. Or ship them to Spain for the growing season. But I haven’t done any of that. I just continue to observe them in their tree.

Lately however, my husband thinks there’s something wrong. They’re spilling out and clustering by the hive entrance.

“I think there’s some overcrowding going on,” he said.

The bees looked like a copper beard on the tree.

“Maybe they’re hot and this is their summer place,” I said.

We worry about them, but being outside their hive doesn’t seem to be bothering them at all.

I read a few bee-keeping blogs. One in particular caught my attention.

“In warm weather, the bees must cool the hive. They expand the distance between bees to allow for air circulation. If there are too many bees, some move outside.”

“See? They’re sunbathing on the terrace,” I said to my husband.

“Wow. Who gave the order, I wonder?” he said.

“The woman of the hive, of course!”

Calvin says, “Never mess with the queen of the house.”