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.