Cardinal at the Pond

Cardinal ready to drink water at the pond

Today is the new moon. This morning I sat near the pond, reading my journal from the date of the last new moon, as is my practice. Then along came this cardinal landing on a rock on the other side of the pond, about 12 feet away from me. After I took this photo, it flew away, but then he came back a little while later, and took a sip of water. We know that having the pond is beneficial to all sorts of wildlife in the yard, but this is the first time I actually observed a bird taking a drink, especially with me sitting right there. I am grateful for this cardinal’s visit, and his acceptance of my presence in his ecosystem.

Some thoughts to remember from the journal: It is good to be claimed by this ecosystem. It is good to listen to the earth, to the plants and all beings, and to the spirits, and to follow their lead about what to do to tend this garden, and when.

Tiny Magical Moments

Dandelions with puffy seed heads, after the birds were gone

Sometimes the best pictures are only in the mind, never caught on a camera. I was sitting with Billie in my blue easy chair in the bedroom, and something caught my eye outside the window. It was a goldfinch couple, perching in the peach tree, and then hopping down to the plants beneath. The bright yellow male landed on a dandelion stem–it was a long stem with the flower already gone to seed in a fluffy sphere. The olive green female was perched nearby on another long stem, with a closed flower head above her.

The male carefully made his way up the stem, even as it was bending down under his weight. He made a few tries on different stems. Finally, he succeeded in reaching the fluffy sphere and began pecking at the seeds. I never knew that dandelion seeds were a source of food for goldfinches. I’m glad that I didn’t cut them down! A short while later, they had gone, but I took this photo of the place where they had been. Even though you can’t see them there, in my mind, I can’t forget his purposeful climb along the stem.

Later, I went to sit by the pond, and noticed something tiny and new and green. Several of the perennial pond plants that I planted last year haven’t come back at all. Cardinal flower, blue-eyed grass, arrowhead, and pickerel rush. They were supposed to survive Maine winters so it was a great disappointment, but I kept waiting and watching, since this is the first spring for the pond. Well, today, I found three new tiny stems with distinctive leaves. There are three new arrowhead plants coming up. They are near where the previous plants were, but don’t seem to be emerging from the roots. Maybe they are sprouting from seeds that fell into the water last fall?

You never know when something new might emerge from the hard work that you did before.

New arrowhead shoot with one leaf, enlarged photo

Healing Times

The last couple weeks have been focused on healing in our household. My partner Margy had knee replacement surgery, and came home to recuperate after a couple days in the hospital. Then, one of our cats, Billie, perhaps from the stress, stopped eating, and had something going on with her liver. So the vet came with some medicines to help her start eating again. I have been the tender of these loved ones, and both are doing well for the moment, but the healing will take some time. I haven’t been able to post on the site lately, being fully occupied with my nurse duties, but today is a quiet day, and I have these few moments to write and share photos.

Billie eating some food!

In the meantime, the yard is unfolding on its own, mostly with our neglect, except for occasional bits of tending, and I have been appreciating its springtime beauty and vitality.

There are two frogs in the pond now, and one day, as I sat watching, one of them was chasing the other one, though not all the way out of the pond. The chased one is more timid, and dove into the bottom. They were both females I believe, so I am not sure what it was all about. But fascinating to watch, and listen to her calls.

Two frogs in the pond, just before the one on the left leapt over, and the one on the right dove under.

Sadly, the robin who has been sitting on the nest on our back porch, finally abandoned the eggs two days ago. She had been on the nest quite a bit, though not always, but they never hatched. I wonder if maybe the location was actually too warm for the eggs. Again, we don’t really know, but it is amazing to observe. We will miss her quiet presence, though I have also seen her in the orchard since then.

Yesterday, a lone turkey came into the orchard on her way to somewhere else. She very politely didn’t eat the broccoli and kale seedlings I just planted this week, but seemed to enjoy the clover.

Turkey in the garden with dandelion seed puffs behind.

I wonder if we might be able to create enough food in our garden, for the people and the animals? (Instead of battling with squirrels and other critters) Today, in a webinar, Letecia Layson described doing that, when creating a garden in a nature reserve. “Plant enough food for the animals and for you.” What a wonderful model for interconnection. There is so much wild plant beauty and food already out there too. For example, wild strawberries have spread over vast areas in the orchard and in the further back yard. We don’t usually eat these strawberries, but leave them for the birds.

Wild strawberry flowers

Way in the back, in the hedgerow which has now filled out in its summer foliage, there is a clump of jack-in-the-pulpit that Margy discovered last year. Since she can’t get back there right now, I looked out for it and was delighted to see that it has returned. I brought her a photo. We also have bleeding hearts, golden seal, and many many ferns along the edge of the “forested” area.

Jack-in-the-pulpit

Margy taught me how to use our battery-powered lawn mower, and I have been able to make some paths at least through the growing-taller grass. Mowing is usually her job. We figured we’d go along with No Mow May, but between ticks and invasive bittersweet, we actually do better to do some mowing. But we always steer around the ferns and other interesting wild plants that come up.

All of this has been a lesson in listening to the land, to the plants, to the animals. I have focused on quiet attention rather than doing projects. There will always be projects to do out there, but this year I am learning to be slow.

Robin’s Eggs

Three robin’s perfect blue eggs

Yes! The robin has been sitting on the nest more consistently and today I confirmed that she has laid three eggs! She stays in place when we go out the back door, as long as we go down the steps near the driveway, which is on the opposite side of where she is nesting. But she does occasionally go away, and in one of those moments, I lifted my phone up above my head and was able to take this photo of the eggs. Little joys in the midst of the lovely day outside.

Peach blossoms

In other developments, the peach tree blossoms are beginning to open, and many sorts of bees are hovering around the cherry tree blossoms, the violets, the pansies, and the dandelions. I’ve been slowly cutting down dead stalks of the oregano plants that have proliferated around the trees, and noticing how the low growing herbs and flowers are spreading onto former paths–but maybe it’s time to let them be the path ground covers. I’ve used wood chips for the paths, but living ground covers are actually the most ideal. Clover, pansies, oregano, thyme, violets. I’m trying to listen to the plants, to the land, to see what might be the happiest.

I didn’t have a ton of energy today, so mostly I lay in the hammock just noticing the orchard and how it is changing. I’ve been going through old blog posts to archive them as pdf files, and was looking at photos of the yard before we planted most of the trees, (the cherries were the first). So much has been transformed. It is a good feeling.

Cherry blossoms and leaves

First Frog! and other firsts

First frog in the pond sighted today!

I saw the first frog in the pond this morning! I came to sit quietly earlier, saw nothing, and then when I came back a while later, there she was, sunning herself on a stone. I almost missed seeing her. She’s a darker color than the ones from last year, but still in the green frog species. Later, I saw her in the water, with her eyes just above the surface, sitting still, as they do. Welcome little frog!

It was a day of firsts. The first cherry blossom opened on our Lapins sweet cherry.

White cherry blossom with maroon leaf edges.

As we sat at the patio table, Margy saw the first hummingbird–darting to where the feeder used to be–(there is a hanging folded paper peace dove there now). It was too quick for us to get a picture. But after lunch, I put out the feeder–not there, but on the other side of the deck, so as not to disturb the robin, who is nesting again. Yesterday morning, she was sitting with her beak open, and she kept it open for quite a long time. We wondered if by any chance that meant she was laying an egg. (It reminded me of women in labor, taking shallow breaths as they prepared to birth the baby.) They say she will lay one egg per day until she has her brood of 3 or 4. If all goes well, she will incubate them for 2 weeks, and feed babies for 2 weeks. She still comes and goes during the day. I hope she tolerates our presence. We’re trying to be quiet as we go in and out.

It feels like, with the arrival of May, all the creatures are joining us in our wonderful little back yard. My heart is smiling.

Robin with beak parted, on nest in beam.

Pond Tending

Marsh Marigolds and Blue Flag Irises in the pond, with pad for tending on the side

After several chilly windy days, we finally had a sunny warmer day today, and I worked on tending the pond. I rinsed off the soil from the two potted Marsh Marigolds I purchased last weekend, and “planted” them in the stones of the plant shelf in the pond. The blue flag irises nearby are shooting up their spikes with great vigor, and they have multiplied. The ferns on the other side have new shoots, as well as the sweet flag. But several of my other plants aren’t doing anything yet–we’ll see. If they can’t survive Maine winters, I’ll abandon those species and use other plants. But this is our first spring, so I don’t know their patterns yet.

Also arriving yesterday, a pond lily plant! After last year’s attempt to grow one in pebbles didn’t work, I tried another option this year. I put it in a pot with clayish soil, per the directions, with a layer of pebbles on top of the soil. I looked all over to find a native water lily, but didn’t have much success with that. I finally ordered one on Amazon of all places. It is from Chalily.com and is the variety Virginalis, which is a hardy variety with prolific white flowers, they say, and good for small to medium size ponds. It arrived as a tuber with several leaves already growing on it. I have high hopes that it will flourish.

Water lily underwater.

After taking care of these three plants, I positioned myself lying flat on the ground, with a little pad over the stones near the pond, and I went around the pond reaching in to fish out dead leaves. I also reassembled any areas where stones had become dislodged over the winter-thankfully not too many of those, though I did notice that several of the white stones I bought from a big box store have cracked apart. I wonder if they were stones at all? And one extra promising note–when I was using the skimmer to see if I could take out some deeper leaves, I saw the movement of some small critter swimming quickly away–I think there might be a frog under there already. I also saw several dragonfly nymphs. I am so happy that now the pond is ready for the season!

I also feel really thankful that I had the energy to do all these tasks. I even transplanted some violets out from the asparagus bed, over to the area around the pond. It is always a mystery, what my energy will be with chronic illness. It is touch and go, and then, when I run out of energy, I can’t do another thing. My mind goes on with what it wants to do next, but my body demands rest. I seem to do worse on colder days and better on warmer ones.

Despite the chilly days we’ve been having, the yard has been waking up nonetheless. The cherry and peach trees have buds almost ready to open. I’ve harvested my first asparagus. The chives are exuberant. And there are pansies all over the paths in the orchard. So cheerful. I decided to keep them all as a ground cover. I was feeling discouraged about the thuggishness of the oregano growing under the trees, but now I’ve decided that oregano can be a ground cover too. If you can’t beat it, welcome it? Doing a bit of research, I discovered that some people even plant oregano to be a ground cover. So if it really wants to spread, that is what it will be. Finally today, when I ran out of energy, I laid in the hammock and just listened to the cardinal singing. It has been a glorious day.

One of the many patches of pansies in the orchard.

Robin Building a Nest

Photo: Robin with moss in beak, sitting on beam under our deck roof.

A robin is building a nest in the beam under our deck roof. I thought she would stop yesterday, after I went out and in a few times–it is our entryway. But she is back today. It seems to be a great place for a nest. The way the beams are fastened, the center board creates a lowered groove between two higher boards, so a nest could rest in that groove and be quite secure. It is protected from rain. She can enter and exit from either side of the beam. I do wonder how warm it might get under the clear plastic roofing, nice for now, but later it could get hot.

One weird thing is that she seems to be working on more than one nest, bringing dried grass and moss to three different sections along the beam. She started in the segment on the left, and this morning I’ve seen her in three different sections adding dried material. Still, her focus is on the section on the left.

Larger view, robin adding nest materials in different sections.

I feel so grateful for the animal neighbors. I love to watch the robin fly back and forth, carrying so much material in her beak. I hope we can be neighbors during the time she raises a little brood. But however it turns out, it is a delight today.

Spring Beauty

Photo: Cardinal seen from our yard this morning

I have started to take short walks in the neighborhood–just 10-15 minutes each morning. It feels good to be moving again and hopefully building my strength. I especially get energy from the birds singing so exuberantly. There are cardinals all over the neighborhood.

This morning, from our backyard I saw several cardinals chasing each other through some tangled branches. They especially like the plot of undeveloped land next to the back of our yard, that we call the “fairy field.” Sadly, it is filled with invasive bittersweet and multi-flora rose that Margy is trying to curb, but it does make for lots of brush up to higher branches, and the cardinals seem happy there. Perhaps they are young males trying to establish their own territory.

Or perhaps they, too, are merely feeling the exuberance of warmer air and brighter days, and can’t keep from singing.

More beauty: some of the pond plants are starting to green up. Especially the blue flag iris. No frogs yet, but I go back and check each day just to see when they might arrive. Only a few of the stones were dislodged during the ice of winter. When it rained the last couple days, there was flooding all along the back yard area beyond the pond, and an overflowing “drain.” But it didn’t seem to be a problem. I hope all of the plants from last year will come back. I am also hoping to add some Marsh Marigold when it comes in to our local nursery. This will be our first spring with the pond, and so it is all an adventure, a slow, curious, waiting kind of adventure.

Blue flag iris beginning to grow at the edge of the pond.

Hammock Teachings

Two turkeys walking through our back yard.

I am writing this outside on the back porch, listening to cardinal songs from the trees at the edges of our yard both right and left. It’s cooler today than yesterday, partly cloudy, but spring feels like it’s waking everything up, including me. I was delighted yesterday to look out the back windows and see a whole family of turkeys wander through the back of our yard. Seven of them! We haven’t seen any turkeys here for a few years. Wild visitors make me smile. I came outside and started tending the now thawed pond: I skimmed off leaves and trimmed off dead stems and leaves from the pond plants. The blue flag irises have new green shoots emerging, and the fern is also starting to show green shoots.

My energy was depleted after finishing only a part of the work, but then was rejuvenated by drinking licorice root tea with ice and a cut lemon at lunch. It truly is a miraculous plant for me. I didn’t drink it during the winter–maybe I should have. I have been growing a licorice plant for about five years now, so if all goes well, it should be ready soon to let me harvest some of the roots. The small bush dies back in winter, but regrows in spring, and sends out runner roots to create new plants nearby. So, rejuvenated by the licorice, I came back outside and set up our hammock (after rearranging some things in the garage so I could reach it–every project is really a few projects, it seems.)

This season, the hammock is most important to me of all the tools in the yard. I have been feeling so overwhelmed by the garden this past year–the problems were starting to outway the pleasures. I mean, the squirrels took all the green peaches, the oregano was out of control spreading all over, and the hugel mound is full of weeds and small critters, I think, and won’t really work except for zucchini and cucumbers, because the water just runs off the sides. I am tired of the feeling of working so hard to get food, and like I am fighting in a battle. I have been searching for a way to be at peace here, as we were when we started. Our hope was to find relationship with this land, and to be a healing presence for the land. To learn from the land.

So I brought myself to the hammock, to rest, to listen, to see the tree tops, and to be open. I was noticing the green moss beneath the hammock, and everwhere in the back half of our yard, and wondered, “Why does it like to grow here? Is it a good thing?” (I am always asking that when random plants pop up–because we have so many invasives like bittersweet, you never know, friend or foe? And I know so little.) I did some research on my phone. “Methods to get rid of moss in your lawn.” On the other hand: “Methods to grow a lawn made entirely of moss.” People have lots of opinions about moss. But our yard likes it. It likes to grow in compacted soil, shady, moist, it doesn’t need nutrients from the soil. It is at home in acidic places, like a pine forest. We have our lovely pine trees here, that is probably our basic ecology. It seemed to me that lying in the hammock, I was able to let go of doing, and enter into the mindset of learning from this place. It was good. Here I am humbled and grateful.

So even though it was cooler today, I found myself outside again, tending to the pond, pulling out dead tree leaves, cutting old plant leaves to make room for new. Going slow. Noticing two robins in the orchard right now. The wild pansies that were blooming in December are blooming again, and dandelion greens are showing. Chives are emerging under the fruit trees. I am trying to remember to balance the tending with the being tended.

Hammock under the pitch pine tree, moss on the ground.

Mysterious Illness and Melting Ice

Ice slowing melting & refreezing in our pond (March 22, 2022)

I recently read Sarah Ramey’s memoir, The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness. Published just last year, it is described this way:

“In her harrowing, darkly funny, and unforgettable memoir, Sarah Ramey recounts the decade-long saga of how a seemingly minor illness in her senior year of college turned into a prolonged and elusive condition that destroyed her health but that doctors couldn’t diagnose or treat. Worse, as they failed to cure her, they hinted that her devastating symptoms were psychological. …Ramey’s pursuit of a diagnosis and cure for her own mysterious illness becomes a page-turning medical mystery that reveals a new understanding of today’s chronic illnesses as ecological in nature, driven by modern changes to the basic foundations of health, from the quality of our sleep, diet, and social connections to the state of our microbiomes.”

Book Jacket Cover

I haven’t experienced the horrifying stories she recounts with medical personnel, but I know others who have. I think it helped that I was usually drawn to alternative practitioners, though Sarah had her own horror stories with alternative practitioners. She finally found help with practitioners of Functional Medicine, and my own primary care nurse practitioner is aligned with that field. For that I am grateful.

I identified with the mysterious nature of auto-immune chronic conditions–when I reflected on it, I realized that they have been a part of my life for many years–most recently, Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, SIBO, adrenal fatigue, and borderline diabetes, but earlier in my life there was endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, and gradually developing multiple chemical sensitivities, and multiple food sensitivities. For most of my life, I managed to work and keep my balance, but it became more and more difficult. Finally, when I turned 65, and could access Social Security and Medicare, I retired from my work as a full-time minister.

I wondered at the time if being released from the stress of full-time work might bring me relief from the illnesses, but that was not to be the case. Instead, I was better able to manage living with the illnesses. But it is a delicate balance. If I eat well (for me that means no refined sugar, no gluten, low carb, lots of vegetables, and meat, while avoiding the list of specific foods that give me problems), if I rest when I am weary (which is spending some variable part of every day lying on the couch), if I take certain natural supplements (for example, I take Berberine, which has been shown to be as effective as Metformin for helping blood sugar balance), and if I don’t overdo it anywhere, well then, I have some energy to do things I love, to write, to garden a bit, to learn new things, even the miracle of building our little pond last year.

Sometimes, I can forget that I have these illnesses. Some days I wake in the morning rested and glad to greet a new day. I might have several hours to work on projects. I tend to get more weary and achy as the day goes by. And during these two years so far of COVID, I have been glad for the many opportunities that the world on Zoom provided. But then, something happens that upsets the balance, and I am sunk into a lower level of functioning, just barely able to cook my meals and take care of the basics. Most recently, I think that my body might have reacted badly to my second Shingrix vaccine. The last four weeks have been mostly couch weeks: reading books and watching British mysteries on Roku. I hope that I am emerging from that now. It is not easy to know what upsets the balance–all I can do is respond to it.

Because I am always asking questions about meaning, I appreciated the connection that Sarah Ramey made between our chronically ill bodies, and the larger ecology of the earth. I think about that too. I wonder if my own body is mirroring the afflictions of the earth I love, is somehow sensitive to the larger web–global warming, the prevalence of forever poisons, the loss of communal connections, the ecological balance which human beings have undermined. If that is the case, can I love my body as I love the earth? Can I grant her that self-care that has been neglected for too long?

One aspect that Sarah Ramey sees as critical is our need for human connection. I was reflecting on how for much of my life I made connection through activism, through shared work. I still feel the impulse to act for justice, in small ways, but there are less opportunities now for the connection that used to be a part of it. I have also felt more isolated since retiring, and, of course, since COVID. Maybe I need to learn something new–to nurture connection that is not at all about work or social justice, but about something more elementary. Can I be cherished, not for what I do, but for my being? Can I cherish others in this way? Can I also cherish myself in just this way? Perhaps it will require a kind of spring melting of some other kind of hidden ice. May it be so.

Hard to see, but there is a thin clear layer of ice on the surface of the pond this morning, but more of the winter ice is melting each day. March 26, 2022