Sunday, March 26, 2006


I had our neighbor and her two small girls over to see the backyard garden this evening. The azaleas are done (and nothing can take their place in terms of lighting up the yard), but overall the garden looks fairly reasonable. The dogs were, as always, desperate for attention, which rather spooked the girls.

The elder child, a self-described insect-lover, actually found a woolly bear chrysalis in a small pile of debris that included its castoff skin.

But despite the yard looking fine and the thrill of finding the chrysalis, as I showed them around all I could see were the "flaws" of the garden from the perspective of the owner of a manicured yard.

I am upset with myself for this. I have delusions of teaching others to live in greater harmony with the natural world, yet make myself ashamed of my own yard where I practice what I preach? Why should I feel obligated to live up to their standards of "cleanliness" when I know that those standards are false and are part of what gets most suburban dwellers into the soul-less chemical and sterile hell that constitutes most yards?

On the other hand, there is nothing like inviting guests into the garden to make me really see the dewberry I haven't pulled up yet, the bare ground that still needs mulch, the overexuberant Artemesia and Aster that needs to be contained and/or removed, and the myriad of other projects that I just haven't gotten around to yet.

The garden doesn't mind the incomplete projects but, despite myself, I do. At least when I have guests....

Suddenly the light is going on! These were guests that I wanted to impress positively with my gardening philosophy. THAT'S why I'm so bummed at myself. If I'm going to "convert" conventional gardeners, I have to meet their expectations, at least in part, as well as my own.

Well, the plant sale will be done in a week, and I will be able to concentrate on my own priorities instead of my volunteer responsibilites. I must admit that I am more than ready to shift gears.

On a more upbeat note, yesterday morning my husband replaced a birdhouse that had lost its floor and by yesterday evening the titmice were already checking it out. That would add a fourth species of bird nesting in or around the yard!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Porcelain Blue Spring Days

Monday was the vernal equinox. With every season, I vow to celebrate the "marker" days: vernal equinox, summer solstice, autumnal equinox, and winter solstice. But as each seasonal highlight comes, I find that I am somewhat at a loss about how to appropriately observe it. And, to be honest, on the actual day I usually forget about it until it's too late to plan much of anything.

That's what happened Monday. In fact, it took a comment from my husband to make me pause for a dirt-covered moment (as I grubbed out the tangled mass of overgrown Kerria behind the Adirondack chairs) and remember what day it was. Late in the evening, before bed, we raised a glass of wine in acknowledgment... but somehow that seems insufficient.

Since then it's been gorgeous. The sky has been a clear full blue, the sun bright but mild, the breeze light and pleasant, and the temperature fresh. Each day the new leaves are cloaking their branches a little more completely, but they are still in their bright yellow-green baby stage, letting most of the sunlight through. The Spanish bluebell bloomstalks shot up overnight and the bottom-most blue bells have opened to shine in the shadows. Two shoots of variegated Solomon's Seal are fully grown now, arching over and protecting their white bell-like blossoms, while deep rose growth tips of other shoots are pushing up from below ground. Across the yard, the southern wood fern is lacily filling in beneath the black cherry. And baby blueberries are beginning to plump out where a week ago their white blossoms hung.

I have found both a bluejay and a mourning dove nest in the yard. And I'm sure that the Carolina wrens have a nest nearby, as they are singing madly every time I go outside.

Crane flies, those huge "overgrown mosquitoes", have been doing their awkward dances in the air for the last several weeks. Their numbers seem to be up this year, and we're getting quite a few in the house, where T.J., the golden feline hunter, makes quick work of them.

Another animal that I've really noticed lately are the tent caterpillars. There is a small web in the top of the black cherry tree, but within a day of noticing it, I was seeing mature tent caterpillars trudging around through the leaf mulch throughout the backyard. They are so beautiful with their punk yellow hairstyle and black, lined bodies, "tattooed" with bright blue dots, that I can't bring myself to squash them. Surely the birds and other predators will keep them in check. It's so rare to have them do longterm damage to any plants.

There don't seem to be many toads and frogs singing this spring, which worries me. The nearest major habitat changes have occurred over a mile away, though, so I'm hoping that it's either a normal variation or a misperception on my part. At any rate, I saw a toad on my front walkway one night a week or two ago, so I know that there are still a few around.

Most of our azaleas are past peak now, and the littleleaf viburnum, daffodils and Fothergilla are done. The roses and iris are just beginning to bloom, and the blue-eyed grass is a dainty mound of tiny blue flowers that open and close daily with the light. It's the time of year when I'm almost resigned to having a couple remnant red-tips in the yard, although only one is still full and lush and beautiful.

They say the ruby-throated hummingbirds are back, but my red buckeye is at the back of the yard and my crossvine is blooming high up in the laurel oak, so I haven't seen any hummers, even if they have visited the yard.

It will probably be 10 days or so until I have free time to notice what's going on in the yard, let alone post again, and by then a million changes will have occurred. Each season is beautiful in its own way, but I have to admit that the constantly unfurling changes of spring make it particularly special to me.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Imperfection as beauty

I just finished reading Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos, which resonated deeply with me. Years ago my father taught me the beauty to be found in imperfection. Kallos has deepened that awareness to include the beauty to be found in broken lives that are pieced back together to form a deeper, more textural significance. If we've lived more than a few years, all of us have broken places in our lives...or in our bodies. Kallos is right - it is the marks from the "web of experience" that makes each of us unique and beautiful in our own, special way. Perfection is bland and ultimately deadening.

There were other subtexts in the novel that resonated as well: a brief exhortation to be true to what attracts you and keep it near and visible for inspiration, as well as the notion that once you've had an idea to perform a good deed, it becomes a promise to God to follow through with it.

The pain that holding on too tightly can create. The choices we each make to live in loneliness and loss or to open up to people and possibilities and love. The importance, even to objects, of personal history. The evil that can lie behind passion. The loving goodness that can lie behind seeming craziness. The important good that a single, solitary person can do by following their heart. Even an answer to the age-old question of "What should you do if you find out you only have a year to live?"! I think this is a story that will be with me, in one form or another, for the rest of my life.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Beginnings

Having been inspired by qkslvrwolf and alcarwen, I've decided to try my hand at sending my thoughts out into the blogosphere. It's a strange sensation, both anonymous and intimate in a paradoxical way.

Within my life, there have definitely been seasons that were appropriate for one activity but not for another. Sewing and handwork, for example, were satisfying when my children were young, but the time for doing them has passed (at least for now), and other activities occupy my time these days. Gardening, always an interest, is now a main focus in my life. In many ways, it's not just gardening that interests me. It's gardening within the genius of the place, gardening that celebrates the local flora and fauna. And I want to encourage others to learn to honor the place they live in, too.

I have lost my passion for strident activism (if, indeed, I was ever truly stident!), but I still feel a need to gently cultivate a cooperation between people and nature. We humans are so often needlessly combative in our relationships with plants and with other animals. I'd like to share and model a softer way of approaching the natural world around us. And in helping keep the small slice of Earth that we each manage healthier and more balanced, I believe that we can keep ourselves healthier and more balanced as well.

In this blog, then, I'll be sharing my successes and failures as I tend our little suburban plot along the Gulf Coast. Since gardening works so well as a metaphor for living, along the way I expect to be looking for ties to philosophy, politics, literature, and any other subject that "crops up." I hope to hear from others who are similarly involved...or even just interested in the process.

And, so, without further ado, I'll begin....