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.”