Friday, July 23, 2021

Midsummer Murders

 

The title of this post is a (shamelessly opportunistic) corruption of the perennial British crime fiction TV favorite, Midsommer Murders, but roughly describes the latest observations in the accidental/anarchist's garden.

A few days ago, during my first perambulation of the morning with Molly, I noticed evidence of utter mayhem: feathers everywhere, apparently from a mockingbird, which had met its demise at the claws of one of our local raptors.




She looks guilty, but is not responsible.

I attributed the carnage (although there were no grisly bits) to a hawk or an owl, both of which hunt in our yard, and went about my business. The next day, however, evidence of further havoc appeared in the same area, and this time it might have been a mourning dove. Since we often see barred owls, and sharp-shinned, red-tail, and other hawks flying about, activity like this does happen occasionally, and I thought I'd identified the culprit(s) when I captured some video of the swoops and glides of a group of raptors a couple of days later, after hearing their cries. The winds were up a bit and these birds (which I now think might have been Mississippi kites) were having a great time soaring on the thermals.

As it turns out, however, if these were indeed kites, as insectivores they were not the perpetrators of the previous days' butchery. If I were Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, I would be able to rely on the skills of an excellent forensic scientist and his or her team in order to solve the crime. But I'm not terribly good at this sort of investigation, and haven't even been able to reliably identify the birds I filmed for two minutes after I caught one of them in the opening shot. I've only managed to locate a couple of websites that can help with silhouettes, and will just have to keep the real camera handy for the next time I hear tell-tale raptor noises. Maybe then I can get clearer evidence. 

I should probably note that the day before all this happened, I had caught in mid-air a downy, floating feather from what was probably a large juvenile bird--possibly an owl. Since we've had experience with these chaps (one is likely responsible for the untimely demise of our beloved Emma, Molly's predecessor), one of their young'ns is now my chief suspect. 

In my last post I mentioned the relative absence of butterflies (exactly one monarch and one black swallowtail so far), but that at least means that I haven't had to spend any time protecting caterpillars from death-by-anole or -cardinal. Part of this has to do with the fact that my usually voluminous fennel and parsley plants were devastated by the spring rains, and there isn't nearly as much black swallowtail food around. One of our three cardinal pairs has successfully nurtured a chick (finally, on their third try), but they're all foraging elsewhere. 

I have had a couple of insectivorous surprises, though: spiders.

I finally have an argiope, which is my favorite garden spider. One built its web in front of my kitchen window when my daughter was a baby, and her first word was "'pider." Ever since, I've made sure to nurture any that show up, but we've only seen once in the twenty years we've lived in this house. Now, however, there's a small one in the cedar tree outside my study window. It has managed to construct its web next to one of the failed cardinals' nests, but nobody seems to have bothered it, and it's been a couple of weeks since I noticed it. It's also getting bigger by the day, and the characteristic stabilimentum that gives it the "zipper spider" common name is growing.


Also, just before our last rain (at the weekend), I almost literally ran into an orb spider in action, spinning an enormous web (the supporting ends had to be at least eight feet apart) across the sidewalk that leads out of our back door. The speed at which she worked was astonishing, and I caught a couple of minutes of her before I had become food for one too many mosquitoes. [Unfortunately, my lack of video editing skills and the file-size limits of Blogger have prevented me from uploading the evidence.] The web was almost complete, and I wonder if she managed to catch anything tasty before the downpour next morning obliterated the whole effort. I had left a note on the back door ("SPIDER WEB") to alert anyone letting out the dog or cat, but by the time I got down to check, it had disappeared without a trace.

So my efforts to track down predators this week have shown very limited success. Still, I'm glad that some of the faunal members of our little garden family are thriving; and even if some of them become victims of others, it's all part of the process. Sometimes it's comforting to know that something in the world is still working properly.

Image notes: The first "forensic" shot was taken in situ; the second is of a representative cluster of feathers, and the third was posed; Molly is not guilty of avicide, but rather had plopped down nonchalantly amidst the crime scene. The opening and closing shots were, unfortunately, obtained quickly and under sub-optimal conditions for getting the best out of an iPhone 7 camera.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Suburban Soundscapes


I was driven from my comfy chair just now by the onset of the weekly brigade of neighborhood lawn maintenance workers. Not neighbors themselves, because aside from us, I've only come across about two other households in the immediate area that "do" their own yardwork. Rather, there are a couple of "landscaping" companies that descend on our block and a couple of others nearby and drive us batty with their racket: usually on Thursdays and Fridays, as the homeowners prepare for visitors at the weekend. Their gas-powered lawn machines (not just mowers, but "ride-on" contraptions), trimmers, and (especially) leaf-blowers, all sporting noise levels so high that we have to close windows and doors and retreat to rooms as far away from it all as possible. 

The cacophony from each only lasts for a half hour or so, but it happens in sequence, from yard to yard, and it only involves two companies, so it goes on for as long as it takes to cover the contracts each day. There seem to be at least eight properties close enough to cause discomfort, but I've had to adjust my reading, writing, and gardening times to their schedules in order to avoid raising my blood pressure. 

By a somewhat ironical coincidence, this morning's reading involved the newest issue of Dumbo Feather--one of the Aussie magazines I subscribe to digitally.  It's a quarterly that features "conversations with extraordinary people" on a broad range of topics. This time it's on music, and I had just finished reading a lovely little piece on "The Dawn Chorus"--the phenomenon of morning birdsong. Thus inspired, Molly and I then went out for our morning stroll in the garden, with the particular purpose of enjoying the relative quiet (post-rush hour) and noticing what birds were about.

As often happens, Molly was startled by a loud truck thumping by and was easily persuaded to "run like the wind" (an actual command) into the house, where I made myself a cuppa and prepared to resume my morning read. And then the mower started up, and I had to move in here to the study. I had already planned to hunker down with the air conditioner on later, when the temperatures rose along with the humidity (it's actually quite comfortable now, under the fan at 86F/62%) to work on planning the coming trip west in September. So I decided to use the opportunity to grouse about one of my current preoccupations: aurality. 

According to my elderly 1971 copy of the Oxford English Dictionary, compact edition, "aurality" isn't even a word, although Merriam-Webster says that it means "of or relating to the ear or to the sense of hearing," which I know only because the Fandom Wiki has a whole section on aurality in its article on "Writing Across Media Wiki." Discovering this was fortuitous, because it offers a perspective I hadn't thought of: aurality itself as a medium for conveying emotion, memory, and other phenomena often provoked by sensory input.

My own auditory capabilities are fading, slowly but irrevocably, into the common plight of the elderly: the hearing aid quandary. At the moment, The Beloved Spouse, whose own hearing is almost canine, is patient when I ask him to repeat what he just said (mumbled?), or to turn up the TV sound just a tad. And I'm actually happy that I miss some of the annoying noises that sift in and bother him. But this same condition means that I don't hear the far-off hawk calls or bullfrog choruses that he does, and will ultimately have to decide about taking advantage of my health plan's offers to help out.

For now, though, I'm still navigating other aural conditions that have arisen over the years. Like "stuck song syndrome" (earworm), which has afflicted me for some time now, so that I cannot bear to hear catchy tunes, and popular music-even my beloved early folk stuff--has become problematic. I'm still okay with jazz and classical music, because of their innate complexity, but easily repeated choruses and jingles can take days to get rid of, and often haunt my sleep.

But the Dumbo Feather issue I'm going to go back to reading (now that the lawn blowers are finished for the time being) is about music and musicians, and I'm thinking about winding up the old Victrola (I actually have one--see left) for a little Artie Shaw, or maybe putting one of my Musical Heritage Society tapes, or a CD from one of my old issues of Esopus, or even Bob Dylan's vinyl Blonde on Blonde album, because I woke up this morning thinking about "Visions of Johanna" for reasons I will probably never understand. Time to put all those old media to work again.

Come to think of it, though, Dylan's music was often punctuated by musings on sound, so it's probably fitting to consider lines like "Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet," and myriad references to the noises associated with cities, such as those in "Johanna." They didn't bother me much when I actually lived in cities, like Philadelphia and Chicago, where subway car screeches, Harry Caray's announcing Cubs games over the loudspeaker, and street urchins' playing stickball seeped into windows and onto balconies and stoops as part of their aural landscapes. But McKinney a sub-urban town, not a real city. It still wants to promote a country-like "vibe," claiming to be "Unique by Nature," all the while pouring more and more concrete for more and more strip malls. And the ambient noise is pretty mon-aural: traffic and lawn machines.

And occasional fireworks. The recent Independence Day holiday lasted for four days here, and sounded like a war zone, beginning Friday night and not abating finally until Tuesday. Fireworks are illegal within the city limits, but that doesn't deter the enormous number of scofflaws who go out of town to buy their ammunition and then fire away. On Saturday and Sunday nights, the blasts went on unabated until well after one a.m. Despite ample public displays put on by municipal and other groups, people around here just can't seem to survive the 4th without blowing stuff up. I'm pretty sure they were all making up for not being able to celebrate amply last year, but I'll never be able to enjoy fireworks again, after four sleepless nights with two frightened animals.

Our little half acre was considerably quieter twenty years ago when we moved up from Dallas. That quiet has gradually been overwhelmed by new highway lanes and increasing construction in what has become just another suburb of Dallas. The only respite came during the early part of the pandemic, when things shut down for long enough that I actually could remember what it was like in our early years here. And perhaps some changes in modes of conducting business will provide a small measure of noise-dampening as we begin to work out how we're all going to live from now on.

It's quiet at the moment, though, and the back yard is lovely and shady. The temperature's a little higher (88F, with a high of 91 expected), but the humidity is down to 56%--quite tolerable with the little 6 mph breeze going on. Time to stop whinging and enjoy the now-tolerable, rather peaceful late morning in summertime Texas. 

The opening photo was taken last year at this time, and shows just about how much sky we can see from most of the yard. The leafy canopy makes it difficult to grow food, but it does help keep the soil cool and the house shaded--which is about as good as it gets in July. I just wish all these trees were better at dampening the acoustical contributions of suburban life.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

On the Cusp of Summer in the Anarchist's Garden


This weekend has become both nationally and cosmically momentous, what with our first federally official Juneteenth celebrated today, and the occurrence of the Summer Solstice tomorrow.  Fathers' Day doesn't much come into the equation, since we are both now fatherless, but the children usually send greetings and often bring up a nice beer; if they do so this year, we'll have even more to celebrate. 

As the early onset of summer heat has settled into our daily lives, we've already begun to take mitigation steps. Those who live in drafty old houses without central air conditioning probably understand better than anyone that cooling is an especially expensive enterprise around here. We are, however, fortunate to have a two-level attic fan that draws air both in and out of the house, forty windows to help direct that flow, and numerous large shade trees. 

The garden is so shady, in fact, that finding a place in which to deploy our solar collectors to juice up the Bluetti portable power station isn't easy. It turns out that the best spot is on the north side of the house, next to our already-sagging veggie garden, where a strip of lawn gets sun most of the day. Elsewhere, nothing stays sunny for long, which in summer is mostly a good thing. I discovered this morning, however, that the solar panels are killing the grass, so we'll have to figure out how to elevate them. The power companies are predicting grid problems, and it will be up to consumers to deal with blackout periods in August. This being Texas, there are no plans for actually correcting the problems. So the solar collecting effort is designed to give us a couple of off-grid air con when we need it.

Our habit now is to open up the house in the early morning, for as long as it's cool enough to get by with just the fans. As things warm up, we vacate the living room for the snug and/or the study, where we can turn on a room air conditioner. The real challenge is cooking, since the kitchen has no A/C, but the ceiling fan usually does the job for as long as it takes me to prep for the main meal. We're keen on salads or casseroles for supper, the latter being fairly simple to deal with in the "pizza oven" in the range. So I try to cook what needs to be cooked while it's still cool, and then chuck the results into the fridge until time to assemble.

My early childhood experience without any real air conditioning in both tropical and desert conditions has made me fairly tolerant of heat, but the combination of high temperatures and humidity is more difficult to accommodate than desert conditions.

These days, Molly and I have begun a new routine of walking in the garden early, where she can lurk and pounce on unsuspecting insects and reptiles while it's still somewhat cool, and I can practice what I'm calling Mao Qigong (cat Qigong). This involves following her around to make sure she doesn't 1) reduce our already endangered bird population or 2) leap to the top of the fence in pursuit of squirrels. Yesterday I managed to complete an entire Ba Duan Jin (the Eight Brocades) while she explored her usual haunts. I don't get to concentrate much, but I do get to practice out of doors which is supposed to be good for my Chi (Qi). I'm not a believer, but I respect the discipline, and the exercises have helped me to not turn into a blob. The neighbors who walk their dogs past our yard have long since decided that I'm a complete nutter, so I'm no longer bothered by being spotted. 

The garden itself, after being totally sodden for so long, is baking out, and I've had to water the tender herbs. Mosquitos are rife, despite the fact that I've used Bt granules everywhere water stands for more than a few minutes, so I have to spray myself down as soon as I get out. Because my warfarin-laced blood is so attractive to the mozzies, I must rely on a low-level DEET spray, but it's the only deterrent I've been able to find that actually works. When bitten I welt up and itch for days.

My efforts to attract bees seem to be successful again this year, even if butterflies haven't discovered the non-toxic pleasures of my abundance of parsley and fennel plants. I even have a butterfly shelter to help save larvae from the anoles and cardinals that have had their way with caterpillars and chrysalises in the past. As soon as I notice a caterpillar, I'll tie a mesh bag around its feeding area (courtesy of a local farm from whom I buy seasonal veg and which packages them in these rather than in plastic), and when it's big enough, I'll transfer it to a pot of food in the shelter until it pupates and then hatches. Or so the plan goes. Last year my one successful chrysalis rescue in October ended when the butterfly froze after it hatched during Snowmageddon last February. I hadn't thought it would overwinter and hatch, and left it unattended in the greenhouse, only to discover its beautiful corpse after the storm.

The Accidental Garden invariably becomes the Anarchist's Garden as I let nature take its course after spring efforts to get things established.  Except for mowing and occasional weed-yanking, disorder reigns. Of necessity, we do little out of doors after about ten or eleven in the morning, unless the humidity drops below 50%. The critters like to get out later, though, so I bought a collapsible swimming pool for them, hoping to engender some frolics in the evenings. Both Molly and Nylah are fond of water, but I'm not sure how eager they'll be to hop in and wade about. They both examined it when I unfurled it next to the greenhouse, in an especially chaotic corner of the garden that gets swamped when it rains and has thus been shamelessly neglected. But they quickly lost interest when Molly noticed something moving in the sea oats. We shall see. This morning she stuck her front feet in the scantily filled pool and took a drink, but withdrew before too long. We'll find a better place for a more formal test later.


Our mychorrizal habitats (large amounts of dead wood) continue to fruit, with both the usual culprits and some interesting newcomers. I've recently found some "dog barf" fungus (slime mold, in a rather lovely orangey color) in the copse next to where we park Porco. And our long-dead hackberry stump keeps feeding a colony of some variety of inkcaps; these commonly arise after rainy periods. They look very pretty for a day or two, and then collapse into goo.
 

The weatherborne energy of nature is also expressing itself in aggressive growth and abundant flowering. As I showed in my last post, the Virginia Creeper and our neighbor's ivy are taking over wherever I let them. The Creeper is sending out tendrils everywhere, and I've had to trim it back when I notice it. But the extraordinarily long flowering season for Wisteria is particularly welcome, and I've been documenting the development of new blooms on a daily basis. One of the spaces for Mao Qigong includes our "secret garden" behind the garage, where a mass of Wisteria grows unsupported and unconstrained, and it's just lovely to breathe in the heady scent as I move through a practice.


It was by this very blossom that I watched a veritable orgy of Cardinal sex the other day, and wondered what would result. Today I got my answer, since one pair (of the three involved) is reestablishing its home in the cedar tree outside my study window. Two nests have already been built there, and several eggs lain, but only one bit of fluff ever seems to have emerged, and I'm not even sure that it survived to fledge. The weather was so stormy and wet for so long that even in the dense cedar needles I doubt that the mother could have protected any babies for very long. Three pairs have built nests in various parts of the garden, but only this couple has persisted. Shepherding Molly past the tree every morning will once again become part of our daily routine.

I'm not sure what to think of the coming three months. There's little chance that we'll be able to travel anywhere, since state parks are booked up forever. We do plan to head west to visit family after children are back in school and the roads less traveled, but things have changed over the duration of the Plague so much that this summer should be somewhat different than what we've experienced over the two decades we've spent on this little plot of land, and certainly in the last year. 

I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Image notes: The photo of the sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning of the Summer Solstice (21st June 2005) was taken by Andrew Dunn and used with a Creative Commons license. All the others are iPhone 7 snaps.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Welcome to Subtropical North Texas


I probably spend an inordinate amount of time on this blog grousing about the weather. Usually by this time of year it's started getting hot, and the tomatoes are already overheated and about to give up. But I am currently reminded of a terrifying novel I began reading just before my valve replacement surgery eleven years ago: Robert Charles Wilson's Darwinia, a sort of alternate history/quasi-horror steampunky sort of story about a giant blob of vegetation's dropping on top of Europe in the early twentieth century.


Kind of what our little "farm" looks like now.
Just outside our kitchen, and to the east of our greenhouse our Virginia Creeper and our neighbor's ivy have joined forces to cover just about everything they can, as you can see from the opening photo. And to the west of the kitchen and the laundry room, the two vines (plus a bit of miscellaneous wild grapes) are conniving to keep the sun out of the kitchen in the afternoons--if we ever get much more sun.

It's difficult to find local precipitation totals because it can be pouring at our house and sunny across town. But we've had some rain nearly every day for the last two months, sometimes in sheets, and The Beloved Spouse recently read something about "record rainfall in McKinney." On our way home from a tardy Mother's Day celebration last weekend in Dallas, we were greeted at the city limits by this:

Although April and May are usually our wettest months, this year's rain has meant repeated backyard flooding, even though it's not dangerous for us because we're somewhat elevated and the water flows downhill to the houses at the south end of the street. Nylah spends a good portion of her time in such weather "crated" next to my side of the bed upstairs; she was scared witless by a thunderbolt not long after she came to live here, and she's adopted several semi-enclosed areas for cowering during thunderstorms. Molly, on the other hand, is intrepid. She also has a thunderstorm space, but she's usually fine as long as lightning isn't flashing all over and being punctuated by really loud thunderclaps. She even enjoys light rain, if it means she can go out of doors. She gamely tiptoes through puddles a couple of inches deep, and leaps over deeper ones.

The result of all this wealth of moisture is that I'm being constantly reminded of warm, muggy, Taiwanese spring weather, and the onset of typhoon season. The highlight of my first year in Taiwan (we arrived in January of 1958) was the category 5 Typhoon Winnie that July, which blew past the north of the island and weakened on route to the mainland. Taipei was heavily flooded, although our Japanese-built house was raised high enough above ground to stay dry. The following year the island was bisected by Typhoon Joan, another category 5, but by that time we had moved up to Yangmingshan (now a national park) and were better protected by the mountains. In September of 1961 we got whacked with Typhoon Pamela (another 5), causing our living room roof to fall in, which explains why I completely freak out now every time there's a tornado warning. Pamela hit Taiwan with winds of about 180 mph. Since this was all happening in the Cold War, we were also ducking and covering at school due to the military confrontations taking place between Taiwan and the mainland that summer. Both of my parents were involved in these events--my mother as the only reporter on Quemoy when TSHTF, and my father in his role as a "listener" for the Air Force (long story--which I may tell sometime, since the events are back in the news). As a ten year-old, though, I was more preoccupied with being a kid and thought it was all such larks.

Hurricane season begins this year on June 1, so I'm hoping the weather will settle down for a while before something comes roaring in from the Gulf.  My main problem with hurricanes around here is that, this far inland, they're notorious progenitors of tornadoes.

At any rate, all the rain has meant that the garden is now quite lush. And it really does look, in some places, as though a big lump of space flora has landed on various parts of the back quarter acre.

Molly observing the overgrowth of parsley.

New additions to the mycelial network. (Variety of Bird's Nest Fungus?)






The eyed click beetle, Alaus oculatus

To add to the increasingly alien landscape, Molly recently found something interesting on one of her hunting expeditions: an Eyed Elater (Click Beetle), according to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension site. It might well have dropped off another planet itself, since I've never seen one before. We thought it was dead, but turned out to be a master at fakery (in more ways than one), and eventually left the old garden table where we had let it recover.

All manner of mushrooms and other fungi grow on the property, due in large part to the amount of ground up old trees that have been added over the years. The newest variety had been generated by the added moisture, and seems to be some kind of Bird's Nest fungus but without any little "eggs." There are hundreds of them, none more than about 1 to 2 cm in diameter. More alien life forms.

When I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, the sun was out, so I took a shot of the sky. Nothing exceptional to most folks, I imagine, but it was just wonderful to see blue sky and white fluffy clouds. The ground even dried out a bit. But by evening it was muggy and warm enough to turn on the air con to keep the dog from panting. By midnight another line of drenching storms came thumping through, followed by an even noisier one a couple of hours later.

So this morning we were living in a swamp again, although the sun's back out (for now). More rain is forecast for the weekend and into next week. I know we'll miss this in August when we're mired (not exactly the right word) in drought, but thanks to river flooding in many areas, some people are having a much tougher time than we are. We actually sat out with our evening tipple and enjoyed relative quiet last evening, before it started clouding up again.

In reality, it's probably only slightly warmer and wetter than it has been since we moved to this house, and learning to live with the changes is going to be part of life in the era of climate change and the abundant challenges we're all facing. So I hope everyone has a good weekend, that you're all vaxxed up (but still masking appropriately) and that life is--in one way or another--beginning to take on the trappings of normality.

  

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Rewilding in the 'Burbs

Mind-wandering is a perennial problem among the naturally curious. One reason for my having fairly recently (within the last three years or so) adopted the habit of keeping a reading journal is so that if I do get sidetracked while reading an otherwise compelling book, I'll be able to get back to where I was when things started going off on another path. 

In September of 2019 I started reading Robert Macfarlane's Underland: A Deep Time Journey, which contains the best opening lines of any book I've ever read:

The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree. Late-summer heatwave, heavy air. Bees browsing drowsy over meadow grass. Gold of standing corn, green of fresh hay-rows, black of rooks on stubble fields. . . .  

I copied the first three paragraphs into my reading journal as if they were a poem, separating sentences into lines of a stanza. I read the first chapter, and got lost running after things that needed further illumination. I got back to chapter 2 in November, and then next picked it up the following August. On the 27th of this month I went back to Chapter 4, which I had clearly already read (marginalia abound), but because of the amount of time that had passed, I could remember little. I also wanted to recover some of the initial sense of wonderment I'd felt. 



The number of coincidences and rabbit trails I noticed and started following almost immediately keep tempting me away, so that it takes hours to get through a few pages. I am not, however, complaining. I'm pretty sure, even only a hundred or so pages in, that this is one of the best books I've ever read.

So now I've decided to savor chunks of it every morning, after the Times crossword is done, and after Molly and I have been out for our morning walk. I'll cultivate the habit of spending time with it, and more purposefully following where it leads. 

The topic of Chapter 4 is, essentially, mycelial networks: connections, interconnections, intersections, and entanglements in what has come to be called the wood wide web. This latter link is to Macfarlane's 2016 article in The New Yorker, "Secrets of the Wood Wide Web," which covers some of what he writes about in Chapter Four. It takes place primarily in Epping Forest, an ancient woodland of about 2400 acres that  extends from Essex in the north to London in the south. I already knew about it as the place where William Morris used to ride about in miniature armor on his pony when he was growing up in Walthamstow on the edge of the forest. (The William Morris Gallery is now located in the home once occupied by Morris's widowed mother and her eight children.) 

In a way, Macfarlane is responsible for my many side-excursions into what I often refer to as "the accidental garden" (since 2007 there have been many such mentions; if you're curious, type "accidental garden" into the search window and you'll get a chronological record).  He is a walker and a noticer and a lover of words, with the most deeply felt understanding of the natural world I've encountered in my long reading life. Reading his books inspires close inspection of one's surroundings, and my phenological efforts are certainly one result. Every year I launch a campaign to notice seasonal changes: the first indications of coming-back-to life, the consequences of summer, the ebbing of fecundity. Spring's effort has been rather protracted this year because the Great Freeze damaged plant life so deeply that some has yet to recover.

My Beloved Spouse knew the moment I saw the back yard of this house that we would buy it. It was entirely too orderly for my taste, but it had good wild bones. Over the next eight years or so, our schedules would allow for little real gardening. But as we approached retirement, we invested time, energy, and a contractor into improving the house and reclaiming the garden.

April 2008





Spring 2015

We often used felled timber to create small enclosures, perhaps not quite what Morris had in mind for "garden rooms," but certainly discrete living spaces that fostered wildlife and provided interesting play areas for the animals. As these "rooms" evolved, we attracted new inhabitants (raccoons, opossums, anoles, toads, snakes, rabbits), and gradually our little suburban habitat recovered from its more cultivated history. It also began to participate in more complete life cycle.

Even before I had read any of Macfarlane's books, I had been a noticer of fungus. I began to collect a large "album" of photos of various species as they appeared in the garden. I'm both fascinated by and leery of the various fungi that emerge everywhere on our property. The abundance is caused by the sheer number of dead things lying about: tree stumps, branches and twigs (in a "wall" that separates the main garden from where we house Porco, the travel trailer), and mulched wood that we pile around the yard after the arborist visits, or when The Beloved Spouse tidies up after storms. Every few months, a load of stuff goes to the tip to be recycled there, but we use as much as we can. And as it all rots, out pop the most interesting looking things: mushrooms, shelf fungus, jelly fungus, slime mold (which looks very much like the dog barfed), and other interesting life forms that fall somewhere between animal and vegetable.

Throughout the many years we've lived in this house, the one certainty we've established is that if something intriguing "accidentally" arrives by whatever means (wind, bird poo, or squirrel), it will be allowed to grow until I can figure out what it is. Often, I know instantly (one comes to recognize regular squirrel plantings), and if it's wanted I'll either let it stay in situ, or transplant it to where it might serve a useful purpose. That's how we got several now-large privet trees, and several more are being fostered. There's also an enormous Chinaberry tree behind where we keep Porco; it grew very quickly and I was terribly happy to see it because they grew in Taiwan and I loved them there.

I've let many of these "trash" trees grow. They're most of what makes this garden accidental. But I like them because they're free, well adapted to the climate, and up until the February storm, could withstand most weather conditions. Ever since everything started leafing out, though, we've waited for two of the largest privet groups and the Chinaberry to show signs of life, and they finally are. How much will come back waits to be seen, but at last little leaflets are showing up along major trunks and there seems to be hope.

There's a great deal of talk in the UK about "rewilding," the large-scale "restoring and reinstating as wide a range of natural processes, habitats and missing species as possible." (The quotation is from the link.) It's designed to mitigate the problems caused by climate change, land degradation, over-grazing, and other byproducts of human interaction with the environment. There is some silliness attached to the conversation about what all this means (it does not refer to our returning to hunting and gathering), but the basic notion of not concentrating all of our efforts on controlling nature is attractive to those of us who would just rather not mess with Mom. 

Besides that, in my vocabulary, "accident" is a pretty expansive notion. It can refer to something that happens unintentionally (as with bird-planted Chinaberry trees), but it can also describe the kind of serendipity that occurs at a plant nursery when one chooses without a list. Inspiration can be accidental, as when one is confronted with a pile of logs and decides to create a memorial garden out of it for a beloved dog. Or the logs can be stacked to form an enclosure for a seating area and a habitat for small critters.

Mind you, I am well aware that my little suburban enclave is far from truly wild. Once upon a time it was blackland prairie. And then it was "tamed." It's been in and out of more or less wildness ever since we moved in. The pesticides and chemical fertilizers have been gone for twenty years, and the very large and nasty corrugated fiberglass "compost" bin that occupied the back corner of the garden (apparently designed to hold schnauzer poo) has been disposed of. There are numerous organic mulch piles, a hugelkulture mound, and two inoffensive compost bins, situated around the property for reusing as much of the plant trimmings as possible (and for avoiding food waste, which we've largely eliminated). 

What Macfarlane's book has added to my experience of our little patch is the urge to look even more closely at what's going on, especially under the trees, and the mulch and leaf litter surrounding them. Only last week I discovered that wildflower seeds I had arbitrarily (although not accidentally) scattered in one spot had produced several little baby blue-eyes--natives of California, as well as Texas. So yesterday I cleared away a heavy layer of leaves from another spot and tipped onto it several decades-old packets of various wildflower mixtures. No doubt, little will come of it. But even one tiny surprise will be worth it--and will have given me something to do with all those old packets.

The Virginia Creeper, which blew into the yard many years ago is now threatening to envelope the whole property--including a very large pecan tree. But it helps hide the ugly fence next door in summer, so there is that.

 
I'll continue meandering about the garden and documenting progress  (of things both accidental and purposeful) in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I'll get back to Underland.



Image notes: The first photo is of the southwest corner of the property that we neglected due to heavy teaching loads. It was actually full of wonderful things that have since found homes elsewhere in the garden. This section has been cleared, the hackberry taken down (but accidental replacements have grown up outside the fence line), and a TBS built a driveway for our Shasta ("Lola") and later our Retro ("Porco Rosso"). Porco was featured in the Lake Mineral Wells post. Lola appears in the background of this photo, and our much-missed dogs Woody and Arlo in the foreground.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Earth Day 2021: Travel in Troubled Times

Lake Mineral Wells from Penitentiary Hollow Overlook
To celebrate our newly vaccinated status, The Beloved Spouse, the Adventure Girls, and I recently took our retro canned ham, Porco Rosso, for a mid-week getaway to Lake Mineral Wells State Park. We're still masking in public, although we're no longer topping N-95 masks (made in Fort Worth) with the cute Studio Ghibli Porco Rosso and Totoro masks we bought through Etsy. Just the Ghibli masks now, mostly to send a message, and to prevent inadvertent spreading around of bugs that might be emitted by others. Traveling responsibly nowadays requires both following pandemic mitigation procedures--and preventing as much environmental degradation as possible.

As I've often whinged about on this blog, we are decidedly ambivalent about where we live, but one thing I can say for Texas, it has some splendid State and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks. To help us come to terms with what seems to be a permanent situation, we decided last year to begin visiting these oases whenever possible. So in January of 2020, just as the Plague was descending upon Occupied Mexico, we found Palmetto State Park near(ish) Austin (the subject of my last Earth Day post), and in October we celebrated TBS's birthday at Lake Benbrook, just outside of Ft. Worth. This time we decided it would be nice to revisit a park I hadn't seen in about thirty five years, and that he had never visited at all. It's also only a short distance away, which is always good for our patient girls--especially Molly (the cat), who is the best traveling feline I've ever encountered, but doesn't like been cooped up forever. So, an hour and a half travel time means no food or potty stops for anyone, and a good long snooze for the animals.

We arrived by around three in the afternoon, got set up, and Nylah got a nice introductory walk. The campsite (in the Live Oak Campground) was wonderfully private, and the weather--although pretty windy--was fine, and we settled in well. We spent the better part of four days there (three nights), and saw gorgeous buzzard ballets every evening, lovely sunsets, frolicking rabbits, deer, geese, herons, egrets, myriad songbirds (a pair of cardinals lived at the campsite), and a few million (it seemed) oak leaf rollers or cankerworms floating on long strands from the live oaks. Every time we went out, we came back with several little inchworms clinging to various parts of both humans and pets.

Molly finally decided to use her new harness and get out of Porco for a couple of walks. She has been reluctant to emerge from the trailer, but we got her a new harness recommended by one of the RV people we watch who also travels with pets. This seems to be more comfortable than the previous attempt, and it's easier to get on and off her.  She also spent some time in the catio TBS made for her out of her old travel crate (a large screened dog crate we used for her in the old Wrangler, but replaced with a crash-tested, smaller carrier when we got the Gladiator).

The trailer itself attracts a fair amount of attention from passers-by because it's far smaller than most of the rigs we've seen in the parks we've visited. At only 20 feet, it looked somewhat out of place among the 35+ foot fifthwheels and gigantoid motorhomes occupying most of the nearby spaces. It's also really cute, with simple red and white trim, the Retro's retro logo, and its canned ham profile. It also doesn't have any swirls or other trim typical of many RVs on the market these days. We know, because we watch an embarrassing number of YouTube videos about what's new on the market. In general, European RVs are much nicer looking and more cleanly designed than those in the US, but there are a few exceptions, and the recent trend toward nostalgic travel trailers first offered us the re-issued Shasta Airflyte, and then the Retro. 

Here's where the Earth Day meditation comes in. One might fairly ask how, if we're so environmentally conscious, we can justify using up all that gas to pull a largish vehicle with a Jeep truck? Why aren't we driving a more fuel-efficient car and sleeping in a tent, or in one of the shelters provided by many of these parks?

Several reasons come to mind. One is the animals. We don't have anyone who can look after them, and since they were both abandoned by previous "owners," we're not happy about boarding them. And while we could probably make do with a smaller Jeep and a teardrop, it would be a tight squeeze for two adults, a 75 lb. dog and a 20 lb. cat. Tents would be a bit flimsy in some camping situations where one or both of them might start feeling territorial, so we chose a small-ish trailer with a bunkhouse layout (hence the two windows at the rear) so the cat could have some room for exercise.  Of course we moon over Airstreams and the new InTech Terra Oasis, with all their space and windows, but we are trying to minimize the footprint. And 20 feet is about all we can park in our hand-built driveway. What doesn't show in the photo is the solar array we used to power the trailer when it was sunny out (thus not using the shore-power), even though we had paid for a 50 amp hookup (we only use the 30 amp plug when we are using the park's power). 

TBS is keeping his eye on the progress of electric vehicles capable of towing Porco. Jeep is even making noises about a hybrid Gladiator, which we'd be happy to trade ours in on at some point. I should also mention that we don't fly, so there's that. I've developed a ridiculous phobia and haven't been on a plane since 2004--even though both of my parents were pilots. But that does keep us grounded, and long trips require careful planning and slower paces. It also gives us a chance to visit beautiful places and to spend time enjoying the scenic wonders of the American west.

I should also probably point out that while we're traveling as conscientiously as we can, we're also generating very little waste. We recycle everything in the trailer that we do at home, and even keep a compost bag in the freezer to hold whatever little food waste we generate. Our total trash output for the four days we were camped amounted to one tiny biobag with a few unrecyclable scraps of paper and odd bits of refuse. All of the recyclables went into a bag to be taken home to our municipal blue bin. 

When we make our big trip out west next fall, we'll map out recycling centers ahead of time, and make use of family compost bins when we can. Meals will be carefully planned so that we eat up everything we make, and have little or nothing to trash. No paper plates, no plastic forks, no styrofoam cups. We'll use as little propane as we can (we have portable electric induction cooktop), and take advantage of dispersed camping sites when available and accessible--and where we can use the solar setup.

We have noticed that many of the RV folks we watch on YouTube are manifesting interest in generating less waste and are making increasing use of solar power, so it may well be that climate change is raising awareness in the sphere of recreational travel.

When I think back on my earliest trailer travel experience (with my grandparents to Yellowstone National Park when I was about seven), the main difference I can see is simply in the size of the rig. They had a little sixteen-foot canned ham (which was later replaced by a sixteen-foot real Shasta Airflyte in the early sixties), which had an ice box instead of a 12 volt refrigerator. There was no air conditioner, but even now we try not to use ours by not traveling during the hottest part of the year. And we can't travel in freezing weather because ours is a three-season (only) trailer. Physical limits also kept travel down in my grandparents' day. Of course, weather was rather more predictable then, and the extremes weren't as pronounced. So we adapt.

Responsible traveling in this particular climatic "moment" requires thinking, planning, and foresight, as well as finding ways to compensate for environmental impact.  What we hope we're doing is that by keeping our everyday footprint as small as possible, we can compensate for any increase that might occur while we travel--and work diligently to keep that small as well.

I opened this post with a photo of Lake Mineral Wells (like almost all the lakes in Texas, it's a reservoir), and I'll close it with one of the sunset on the first night. Have a happy Earth Day, folks. I'm hoping more people will be able to get out and celebrate this year. Things do seem rather more promising in many ways than they did last year at this time.

Sunset at Lake Mineral Wells

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Only Collect

As I often do, I'm going to preface this post with a warning: beware of peregrination. Where I start is undoubtedly not where I will end. I'm not even sure it will even make sense. But connections have been buzzing through my busy brain for the last couple of days, and this is my effort to collect them--and to excuse the title.

Larry McMurtry died yesterday. He was only 84. I say only, because my father died at 83, and that was far too young for me. Anyway, I'm not really much of a McMurtry fan; I've only ever read Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, and except for Hud (a million years ago), I hadn't seen any of the films made from his books. But I was a fan of his store in Archer City, Booked Up (pictured at left) to where in our halcyon days friends would caravan out for a day of frolicking among the four warehouses that housed the wonderfully expansive collection of books in the most unlikely of places. We'd head out in the morning, stop for lunch at The Green Frog Cafe in Jacksboro, and not head back until we'd spent ourselves silly on boxes full of literary and philosophical treasures.


There weren't many bargains to be had, because McMurtry knew what he had and what everything was worth, but those trips were responsible for many linear feet of bookshelf occupants in our house to this day. I only spoke to him once, when he asked me if he could move my pile of books to a bench so he wouldn't trip over them while shelving new arrivals. But he was usually on site, and often managing the till when we checked out.

In 2013, I joined a Kickstarter campaign to fund a film about the gigantic auction McMurtry held to sell off the contents of all but one of his spaces, Books: A Documentary. I got a great tee-shirt, a tote bag, and some nifty bookmarks, but haven't heard anything about the film itself since 2014. 

Now, The Beloved Spouse and I own several thousand books, but we don't collect them. Lots of people do, which is why the auction at Booked Up did very well. The shop in the original building still exists (although what will become of it now, I don't know), but it's been at least a decade since our last trip. We've become more sparing in our accumulation of late, and the Plague has forced us to order books online. One of the reasons that McKinney was attractive enough for us to move here twenty years ago is that it had an antiquarian bookshop just off the Square downtown.  Alas, it closed a couple of years ago when the proprietor and his dog got too old to manage it. It's probably a tattoo parlor now; I haven't even looked to see what took its place. Archer City is a much smaller county seat than McKinney is, and it's rather surprising that McMurtry managed to keep the larger version of his enterprise going for as long as he did.

So, that was Thing One. Thing Two was inspired by my having noted in the letters section of this week's New Yorker a comment about Ann Pachett's piece in the March 8 issue, "How To Practice." Because The New Yorker occupies its own large share of space in our house (on shelves and coffee tables), I was able to locate it quickly, which I wanted to do because it's all about what the Swedes call "death cleaning." I'm at the stage in life where I love horrifying friends and family by talking frankly about a matter I consider immensely practical--even though I'm only just now in my 74th year, still ten years younger than my father was when he died. (Had he lived, he'd have turned 100 this Groundhog Day.) 

Patchett's lovely little piece re-inspired me to go back to what I'd started some time ago. I've already done a great deal of tidying up and have begun to address some new issues, but the article renewed my resolve. I didn't know this, but TBS was already thinking along the same lines and just now walked through our study on his way out to the garage to see what he could do about its contents. 

The impetus on his part began a few days ago when we rather suddenly realized that getting out of Texas was almost impossible--in part because of the effort it would take to get ourselves ready to move. Not even considering the expense of transporting what we don't want to get rid of, the physical labor involved is probably beyond us at this point. Nevertheless, the daily reminders of human mortality, and Patchett's timely admonition that what we don't take care of ourselves will be left to our survivors, makes a new effort at sorting-through our accidental collections a not just timely but also appropriate activity to occupy us for as long as the Plague persists.

What complicates the whole process is our increasing consciousness of waste. Everything that can be, must be recycled or repurposed or donated. So what can be, will be sorted into boxes for appropriate children, siblings, nieces, and nephews. We will, however, ask first, since we've been informed by numerous articles on similar topics that millennials don't want our crap. They're into experiences not stuff. But I'm not totally convinced, so I will ask. And then we'll box up the good stuff that might bring in a little cash at an estate sale, which my beloved daughter will no doubt be able to handle far better than I would. My greatest gift to her will, I hope, be the successful sorting of the boxes of memorabilia my mother had shipped to Dallas when she left Taiwan, and still hadn't dealt with when she died just before we moved north.

Mortality is central to being human. And memory is what staves it off, or at least makes it bearable. And the older we get, the more fragile memory--and mortality--become. Writers whose works have influenced our lives are well worth remembering, and so are the objects our forebears have left us and that have filled our homes and helped to shape our memories. Quite often, those objects actually consist of beloved books that have been passed on through generations. It was clear that many of the books I brought back from Booked Up had been just that sort of memento.

Because writers often gravitate towards books, it's probably no real coincidence that both Ann Patchett and Larry McMurtry own(ed) bookshops. Patchett's independent Parnassus Books in Nashville is rather different from McMurtry's, but if I ever have a chance to visit my oldest friend in the world (who lives there) I imagine it will be one of the first places I seek out. If TBS and I ever do shake off the bonds that keep us in Texas, I'm pretty sure we'll settle somewhere with a shop or two. 

Larry McMurtry notes in Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, as a reason for opening up his "anthology of bookshops past," that "books are the fuel of genius." And even though his legacy in Archer City is rather smaller than it once would have been, and even if it fades away for good now that he's gone, it's one that lives in the many of us who visited and spent so many happy hours within its several walls.

Image credit: The photo, an interior shot of one of Booked Up's four warehouses, is by someone called "Cohee (Talk)" via Wikipedia.


 


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Spring At Last--More Or Less

I meant to get this up yesterday, on the actual date of the equinox, but I became sidetracked by revisiting old spring posts and comparing notes with myself. For a different spring celebration, peek back to last year's post with its better photos and better outcome: Finding Things to Celebrate: The Vernal Equinox.

This year, everything's late, with the exception of one lone iris; these usually appear toward the middle of April, but this one was apparently confused by the unusual weather. Wisteria, which should be in full feather at this point, is only just beginning to bloom. I can smell a  bit of holly blossom, but the flowers are still almost invisible. Daffodils are pretty much gone, but it does look like the paperwhites will survive, since their stems are back. Meager bits of redbuds are showing, but it's clear that we've lost a major trunk. I may give up and plant a more robust version in its corner, now that I've moved the compost bins (to keep Molly from using them to vault up to next-door's fence). I do enjoy encouraging the volunteers, however.

There should be better sun in that corner this year, due to the severe pruning we did of the privets last fall. Speaking of which, there's still no sign of life on those. But one I planted on the back fence two years ago is leafing out nicely, although it won't be of much use as a screening plant for a while, because it's still quite small.


By this time last year, the figs were promising; big leaves had emerged and a couple of tiny figlets were popping up. This year: nothing. It may have frozen down to the ground this year (as it has in the past), which means we'll have no figs until quite late, if at all. Sigh.

What this all adds up to is that every day brings a small adventure. As soon as I can get to a nursery, I'll fill in some gaps with perennials. I'll get baby veg from Whole foods, and maybe a couple of well-started tomatoes from Costco, but I'm a little less ambitious than I have been.  Now that the greenhouse is in, the soil needs building up, which means assembling compost and well-rotted goodies from behind the garage. This is the site of an attempt at hugulkultur, but has mostly been forgotten, so it's probably time to do something with whatever has come of it. What we need to be doing now is planning for the future that involves mostly things that come back without our help. Now that I have access to a local farmers' co-op, growing an abundance of my own food is less compelling.

The Beloved Spouse and I recently came to a rather sudden realization that moving west permanently is so impractical as to be impossible. (It involves clearing out the garage.) So we've begun to focus on making our place as habitable as we can, and as tolerable as is practicable. This involves putting up a well-insulated tool shed to block the pool pump noise from next door, creating more seclusion by judicious planting along the back and side fences, and rewilding major swaths of the property--while still maintaining spaces for pet-entertainment, human conviviality, and post-pandemic social engagement. 

To address our continuing malaise about where we live, we've vowed to take Porco and the pets and just get out on the road, frequently. In early April, we're taking a trip to Lake Mineral Wells, one of my old hiking haunts from about forty years back. A longer trip much further west is in early planning stages, and exactly when will depend on traffic. RV travel has been quite popular during the Plague, so we're unsure about when we should go. At the moment it looks like late spring or early fall, to avoid as many crowds as possible. The popularity of Nomadland and YouTube RV vlogs makes us a bit leery of gigantic fifth-wheels taking over the desert in mobs. But we will be able to boondock, so that promises to open up some options.

By April 2 we'll both have been fully vaccinated, and so will most of our family. Things are thus looking up, and we should have a fair-weather respite before warm-weather storm conditions begin factoring into our travel ambitions. 

I've written before about my efforts at learning to love the prairie, but hadn't realized at the time that it would become so difficult. Noise, politics, greed, and concrete are only a few of the components that make retirement much tougher than we had anticipated. Some of that has been ameliorated by the regime change in DC, but it will be some time before this part of the world gets over its antipathy toward intelligence, wisdom, and expertise. [Revisiting the linked post (to 9 May 2017) has provided a bit of perspective (we were also contemplating permanence at the time); the current condition of my memory makes it difficult to recall all of the many attempts I've made to reconcile myself to exile in Texas.]

Unfortunately, time is what we have less and less of. But spring does make it easier to ease our anxieties and make better use of that time, by ushering a welcome breath of optimism. 

If anyone who reads this is wondering (as my students used to, constantly) why anyone would want to maintain a blog (let alone more than one), philosophizing and fostering memory both provide compelling excuses. Not many folks frequent my posts, but in the absence of friends and family to keep memory alive, writing is its own reward. I recommend it to young and old alike, because time itself is so very fleeting. 

The last year, as problematic as it has been, is gone. Already. Although far too many people have suffered far to grievously,  it will not be long now before what becomes normality (I'm not sure we can actually return to it) overcomes the recollection of at least a few of the trials.

So, if you haven't already, I urge you to at least begin to keep a journal. Think about shifting from daily snippets on Facebook to longer, more thoughtful posts directed at your family and its collective memory. I have only recently discovered how very fortunate I have been to acquire a repository of family letters, and to have kept numerous journals and several blogs. I rejected Facebook and Twitter from the beginning, and will have more to say about what Jenny Odell calls the Attention Economy in my next post. In the meantime, I'm going out to lay in my hammock with Odell's book, and enjoy the first full day of spring.

Be well, stay safe, and get vaccinated!!



 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Getting There

Actually, I'm not sure where "there" is, but "somewhere not here" (a corruption of a bit of dialogue from the "Ariel" episode of Firefly) comes to mind. So does a temporal interpretation, as in "somewhere in the future" (or "somewhere not now"). A bit of nonsense, of course, but I live in Texas. Only because I don't really have a choice in the matter. And I live in Texas at this particular moment in time (having been in and out of the state for varying stretches over the last seventy years). But we do love this house, and enjoy our time "just hangin'" with the "buds" (above) in good weather.

What gets in the way of our ability to be better satisfied with our lot are conditions like our governor's recent display of bad judgement, and the persistence of neighborhood nastiness that assumes anyone who doesn't believe that Dr. Seuss was banned, or that Mr. Potato Head was tragically emasculated hates America.  I've had to turn off notifications to a "what is this world coming to" thread on the Nextdoor app because so many folks who live around here see cultural sensitivity or empathy as evidence of a socialist campaign to "cancel" the sanctity of American culture.

Anyway, what I'm really musing about these days is the possibility of being able to travel west to visit family in Idaho and Washington. We were beginning to map out just such a trip last March, before having to dial back our plans to accommodate a cardiac intervention (stent) and the uncertainty brought on by the descent of the pandemic.

Now, however, a year on, I've been fully vaccinated, and The Beloved Spouse received his first dose yesterday, with the next one scheduled for April 2. My problematic cardiac history earned me the solicitous care-taking of my heart docs, so even though I'm a bit young for the top of the first tier (I'm "only" 73), I got on a list through the hospital (lovingly called in our family "the Baylor Scott White Hospital, Resort Hotel, and Spa") with which I do all too frequent business. 

My daughter, who is a crackerjack IT admin, and who shares some of my crappy cardiac genes, found an appointment in Houston, and made a day trip down there to get her first dose. Then she found a slot in Amarillo for her second--and used frequent flyer miles and a free rental car to take advantage of that. Her problem-solving and travel-arranging skills came in handy, and have helped relieve a great deal of angst connected with her in-office work schedule. 

As it turns out, thanks to the recovery bill, vaccination rates should be picking up considerably in the near future, and some semblance of normality may well resume sooner than we had any right to expect-- especially in a segment of the country with a problematic attitude toward science, expertise, and reason.

What all this leaves a bit of room for now is anticipating the advent of spring.

This is going to provide an interesting exercise in phenology, because the winter storms have produced enough damage to promise a range of surprises. The biggest question at the moment is whether or not the three large privet copses we've nurtured over the years will survive.  Most folks regard them as trash trees, but we like them because they're volunteers that grow fast, provide lots of shade, bloom with lovely white flowers, and even give the birds something to eat after they've denuded our hollies. The latter did quite well, actually, although mobs of robins and cedar waxwings crowded them for food and shelter during the storms. By the time the snow was gone, so were all the berries, including any that had been knocked off during the melee.

But the privet leaves are all brown now, and are falling off. We'll have to wait and see if they'll re-leaf, or if we'll have to turn them into firewood for the log-burner we're planning to install before next winter.

Some of the perennials have survived, but others (like my lovely Lilies of the Nile) seem to have succumbed. Just before the storms, I had bought two fragrant climbing yellow bare-root rose bushes, but didn't have a chance to plant them. They, too, appear to be non-starters. Nevertheless, the Roses of Sharon sport tiny green spots where flowers will later emerge (white, pinky-purple, and blue), and the daffodils and muscari have emerged  in all their usual glory along the fence behind the greenhouse. I had covered the daffs with rugs before the storm, and cut the blooming paperwhites to bring indoors. The daffodils made it, but the un-covered (and de-blossomed) paperwhites are now mush. I'll have to try and dig them up later to see if they'll need replacing.

 

To my surprise, a few of the geraniums I unwisely left on the back porch during the hard freeze that penetrated the house (it got down to 18F inside) actually survived and are now greening. And my faithful pot of pansies--which won't make it through the summer--got by with a couple of bedsheets to protect them.


Alas, it appears as though the row of nandinas that came with the house when we bought it seem to have met their collective demises. This will, however, permit us to chop down the dead wood and place a well-insulated tool shed up next to the fence in hopes that it will block at least some of the noise from next-door's pool pump. I experienced ten minutes of sheer, quiet bliss the other day when it was apparently shut down for maintenance. And then it was turned back on, so the animals and I abandoned the yard in disappointment. Plants do little for noise abatement, but a reinforced, insulated shed stuffed with gardening tools may well offer better help.

One of the real treats of back-yard living around here is the frequent appearance of assorted raptors. On my way out the back door a couple of days ago, I heard a sound that made me look up. Upon doing so, I was greeted loudly by what seems to be a young red-tailed hawk.

 
TBS, who is a great lover of majestic, screechy birds, came out with our new Celestron binoculars (my birthday gift timed to observe the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction last December), but we weren't prepared to erect the tripod and attach his phone's camera. So I just shot a little video with my antique iPhone and then watched it fly away--without catching that, either. Sometimes it may just be best to enjoy things while we can, because of their ephemeral nature.

Like a surprise visit by a gorgeous animal that obliterates the highway noise of a suburban neighborhood in a problematic part of the universe. 

Spring begins on Saturday, the 20th: a harbinger of better times.