Season Changes

Ice forming on the surface of the pond yesterday, like wrinkles over the water. You can see stones around the water in a ring.
Ice was forming on the surface of the pond yesterday.

Yesterday felt like the true turning of the seasons, from warm autumn 70 degree days to a chilly, almost winter, high of 40 degrees. We had a freeze overnight and the pond surface was wrinkled with ice forming. I went around the yard putting away the last garden hose, the five-gallon buckets, the little tables we use in the back next to chairs. I turned over the wheelbarrows behind the garage. I covered our patio table and chairs with a tarp, and I plugged in the bird bath so it will keep water thawed during frozen weather. I got out the snow shovel and sand mixture to put on the back porch. I left 4 chairs around the fire circle–maybe we’ll get outside around a fire–it could happen!

Last Thursday was my last time lying in the hammock for the season. I could see two frogs still hanging out in the pond, the color of mud, not the green of summer. While I was lying there, suddenly I saw a huge bird flying nearby, up to the pine trees at the back near our yard. Looking closer, I recognized the characteristic shape of a turkey! It was dusk and the light was turning all black and white and shades of gray. We’ve had a little trio wandering in the yard during the last few weeks, so I am guessing this was one of them. I had to put the hammock away the next day.

Turkey in a pine tree at dusk, mostly black and white silhouette.
Turkey in a pine tree at dusk

This morning, we had a bit of snow, mixed with rain, so here we are. The gardening work, whether fully complete or not, is done for the season. And I was inspired to get back to my winter project–going through boxes of old papers in the basement. I am proud of myself for diving into it today!

Last winter, I went through 11 boxes from my years in Boston, organized, winnowed, and reduced them to four. I had just started on some boxes from the time before I moved there. This winter, I will go through papers from my time at the Women’s Peace Camp, and in Chicago, and in Grand Rapids. I went to Chicago from Grand Rapids in 1983 to attend Chicago Theological Seminary, from which I graduated in 1986. I visited the Peace Camp in the summer of 1983, and then lived there in the summer of 1985, and winter/summer 1986. These places were the scenes of my coming out as a lesbian, and my trying to figure out what ministry might look like for someone like me. At the time I had left the Catholic church, and was part of the emerging feminist spirituality movement. I experienced so much transformation during those years, and I am fascinated to read what I wrote about it. It was a season of profound personal change.

Advertisement

Part of the Landscape

I was stretched out, lying in the hammock, with my feet up, listening to an audio version of “Olive, Again.” Suddenly a chickadee landed on my black sneaker, and started pecking inquisitively around the seams. I wish I could have snapped a photo, but he was gone again in just a minute. I guess I must have seemed like a part of the landscape then. I can’t imagine a better way of being perceived!

Or maybe I might be seen as a friendly or annoying neighbor? The other day, a chipmunk was stuffing her cheeks at the bird feeder, and I decided to chase her away so the birds could get some too. I walked toward the feeder, and she just stayed put. I actually reached out and gently touched her back–at which point, she flew off the feeder and took off toward the pitch pine tree. Then, yesterday, I was lying in the hammock, and a chipmunk was perched on the trunk of the pitch pine, chattering at me. I wondered if it might be the same one.

Or maybe it was the one that a few weeks ago was walking across the patio in what seemed like a drunken haze–she would go a few feet and than fall over on her side. I thought perhaps she was injured, and wondered about taking her to a wildlife center. I set a small box into her pathway and she ran right into it. But after doing a bit of research, the recommendation seemed to be to generally let them take care of themselves, so I released her and she ran into a nearby chipmunk hole. I hope she recovered!

The chipmunk on the patio next to our deck stairs

I’ve also been doing a few small projects in the yard. The biggest project was to change the level of the outflow channel for the pond. I removed the stones covering the channel near the edge of the pond, and lifted up the linings, and raised the opening a couple inches. I was thinking that perhaps having a couple more inches of water depth in the pond might help it over-winter better. Last year several plants didn’t survive. I filled it to the new level with water from two rain barrels and then put back stones over the channel top again. Probably no one else would notice the difference, but I am glad that I did it. I also went around and cut off dead leaves from the pond plants, and pulled out some more algae. I was sorry to disturb the frogs’ familiar habitat, but they seem to be doing fine now.

Pond with 2 inch higher level of water, (plus the scissors used to cut dead plants.)

Today, I harvested some more thyme, rinsed it, and put it into the herb dryer. I’ve harvested kale and broccoli for cooking, chives to cut up and freeze. Last week I harvested licorice roots. I scrubbed them well, cut them up into tiny pieces and put them in the herb dryer too.

Licorice root after washing

Today was a lovely warm day, so good to be outside, to be part of the landscape. Tomorrow it will be colder, and that is harder for me. But I am trying to enjoy this season of autumn, not just as a time of preparing for winter, but a graceful time of its own, all the golden leaves, harvest time. Harvest time for so many of the creatures all around us.

So Many Small Birds!

Two goldfinches on an evening primrose stalk

I feel such delight in all the small birds that love to be in our yard. Yesterday morning, the gold finches were all over the evening primrose stalks, eating seeds. Native self-seeded wildflowers for the win! Then I saw a few little brown ones–maybe sparrows–taking a bath in a puddle in the driveway, after the good rain we had the day before. Here is one drying off afterwards.

Sparrow after a bath, sitting on the deck rail.

He turned around while I was looking from the back door. So cute I had to share both photos!

Sparrow after a bath, on the deck rail, facing me.

The little birds just love our garden, our trees and bushes, our wildflowers, and we love them. If I had to pick just one sort of critter, birds are my folks! It makes me so happy that they are happy here!

One more bit of good news. The mama turkey has come back a couple times with her baby, after the horrible incident in our yard where her other baby was killed by a neighbor cat. We’re glad to see they are doing well.

Mama and baby turkey in the grass.

Peach Abundance

Peaches are ripening, bright red and yellow, crowded together on the branches.

Those of you who perhaps followed my peach tree saga last year might remember that after hours and hours of tending–including several organic sprays, thinning the small green peaches, putting little mesh bags on the remaining ones–the squirrels ran off with every single green peach, or knocked them off the branches as they tried to get into the bags. We got zero peaches to eat.

Well this year, I didn’t have the heart or energy to do all that tending. I did one holistic spray early in the season. I felt very non-attached to any outcome, since one might assume that squirrels would eat them all again. But that didn’t happen. A few weeks ago, I started picking a few small random peaches, so that others would have more room to grow, and the branches wouldn’t break under their weight–but only a few at a time, not systemically. I put them in paper bags, which is the actual way to help them ripen. (Not on window sills as I had previously thought.) A few weeks ago, the squirrels started eating some peaches too, sitting in the tree, or taking ones with broken spots that I left on the patio table. I found their leavings on the deck railing. It was fun.

Broken peach bits on the deck railing.

But they didn’t take all the peaches. And the peaches started to really ripen. Now they are bright red and yellow, crowded though they are on the branches. Now, we are processing all the bags of ripening peaches in the house, as well as gathering peaches literally dropping from the tree. I have cut them in slices to freeze–first on a tray, and then put into freezer bags. Yesterday I made a gluten free peach cobbler. We have invited friends and neighbors over to share in the abundance. More people are coming by this weekend. This morning, I saw this little bird pecking for its delicious breakfast. There is plenty to share!

Bird eating a peach on the tree.

I feel grateful and humbled by this turn of events. Sometimes gardening feels like a battle between the gardener and the “pests.” I didn’t have the heart to try too hard to fight this battle this season. (And our cucumbers and zucchinis are succumbing to bugs-so it goes.) I was surprised that the peaches thrived so well without my efforts. I was surprised that the squirrels took some, and it seems they felt okay about sharing. Maybe they sensed that we were not enemies this time. Margy and I feel so good to be able to give them away to others. The garden is such a great mystery! I continue to feel humble and grateful by all it teaches us.

Oh, and here is the recipe for gluten-free peach cobbler. I searched the internet, and then adapted this one from several I had seen:

Peach Cobbler: preheat oven to 375 degrees

Slice peaches and place in a lightly buttered 9 x 13 pan. Basically use enough to cover the bottom well, or more if you like. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and a tiny bit of ground cloves.

Whisk together 1 & 3/4 cup almond flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Blend together 1 large egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/4 cup Greek whole milk yogurt, and 2 tablespoons softened butter. Add that to the flour mixture and blend, and then spoon over the peaches–it won’t cover them completely, but spread it around as you can. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Remove and let cool a bit so you don’t burn your tongue. You can serve as is, or with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Peach cobbler in a glass pan, with some pieces removed.

To Be of Use

Chipmunk drinking at the pond

Yesterday morning, I was sitting next to the pond, writing in my journal. After I’d been there, and quiet for a long time, this chipmunk approached the other side of the pond, climbed down the rocks and took long drinks of water. After a couple minutes, it quickly climbed back up the rocks and ran back into the field behind.

If you’ve been following my posts recently, you know that I’ve been dealing with chronic illness causing me to have much less energy this summer. So my relationship with the garden has changed. It has been less purposeful and project oriented, and more, “Let’s see what the yard wants to do this season.” To listen more, to do less, to observe more, to try less–and I’ve learned so much, actually.

It’s true that we had already done a lot to shape the yard–we planted many fruit trees and bushes, let wildflowers grow, planted perennials, pulled invasives, and created the pond last year. Some of the plants that were in the pond didn’t survive the winter, and I did add a few more this spring. But it wasn’t enough to prevent algae from flourishing. So periodically, I get inspired to pull out as much as I can. But I’ve also noticed that bees love to perch on the algae, to get a drink of water presumably. (There is always enough algae left for them.) It gives me gratitude to know that this pond, imperfect though it is, has been of use to these creatures in a drought-burdened summer.

Bees on green algae

Lately, my old nemesis the squirrel has come back to start eating peaches. But since I was doing so much less to nurture the peach tree–less holistic sprays, less thinning of peaches, and so on–and since I had somewhat resigned myself to having no peaches after last year, I haven’t been stressed out about that. And the squirrel or squirrels seem more mellow as well. The peaches are actually very crowded together, and every couple days, I twist off a few tightly squeezed ones, even though they are not ripe yet, to make room for the others to grow bigger. I’ve put a few on window sills in the house to see if they will ripen. I tell myself the squirrel is also thinning the peaches. We are collaborators, rather than enemies. Who knows, maybe there will be enough for all of us?

Squirrel sitting on a branch in the peach tree nibbling on a green peach.

In a world with so many horrors that I can do nothing to stop, or even to protest, I am grateful to be of use to these small companions who share our back yard with us.

[And thanks to Marge Piercy‘s poem, To Be of Use, for its evocative and helpful title.]

Tragedy in the Garden

This little tabby cat hiding near our steps is not ours… it must belong to someone in our neighborhood.

The tabby has been hanging out in our orchard the last few days, in stalking position under the cherry tree. I had just been writing recently about how our orchard is a bird haven. The cat decided to make it a hunting ground. Every time I saw it there I chased it away. Yesterday, I was resting in my room and heard a commotion outside, and suddenly saw that it had attacked and grabbed one of the baby turkeys that has been visiting our yard every day with its mother. The mother turkey was screaming and charging at the cat. I tore out of my room and out the back door but the cat had disappeared with the baby.

More yelling at the cat, then Margy joined me outside, and finally the cat ran out from under our deck down the driveway. The mother turkey was pacing back and forth and calling. We started looking for the baby, and Margy finally saw it under the deck, still alive, but looking injured. I recently had read a post on Facebook about what to do about injured birds, and so I called Avian Haven to ask their advice. Wendy suggested that I get it into a box, and then call back. They have a volunteer in the Portland area who could take it.

So I crawled under the deck, using a pad to help my knees, with a very shallow cardboard tray, and creeped over on my belly to where the bird was laying. It was about a foot long, and something was wrong with its wing. I was able to cradle it in my hands and lift it onto the cardboard, all the while talking gently to it. In the house, we put it into a large shoebox, and wrapped it in an old t-shirt of Margy’s. We got a call from the volunteer, Karen, and she drove over to our place to pick it up.

Wounded turkey baby in a box wrapped in a t-shirt

Last night she texted that she had found a wound under its right wing, and did some first aid. But this morning she let us know that the baby had just died. She was hopeful earlier because it had stood up, but then a little later it was gone. She thanked us for rescuing the bird, and said that because of us it had a safe, peaceful end of life.

I just feel so sad. I feel angry at the little cat. We love our two kitties, but they are indoor-only kitties. However, sadly there are several cats in our neighborhood who wander wherever they like, and often into our yard. I shouldn’t really blame the little tabby–it was only following its instincts. And maybe there was a time when cats being hunters was helpful to humans for their rodent problems. But what are we to do? As we try to create a little wildlife haven in the city, as we listen to and love this ecosystem, we try to find a balance. Squirrels, ground hogs, chipmunks can be annoying to our gardens, but cats are known to be the major threat to song birds. Can we change our cultural practices to protect the birds?

The Gifts of Birds and Berries

Blueberries and raspberries from our garden

Right now the garden is happy with berries: the raspberries are loaded with fruit, and this is the first year for a blueberry harvest. We planted these blueberry bushes in 2017. This year, I put up some fence posts and draped the berry bushes with gauzy fabric after the berries started to form. (Tried it first without the posts, but the weight bent the bushes over when it rained.) This is to keep the birds from eating all the berries. But we have three younger plants in the back that I left open. And the raspberries do fine on their own. So every other day, I go out and pick a bowlful of ripe berries.

Blueberry bushes wrapped with tulle fabric

The fabric barrier is a bit ironic really. I don’t mean to discourage the birds at all. But expert gardener’s advice says that they will eat all the blueberries before we can. I think of myself as a very novice gardener. Our garden only provides us with a very modest harvest. Last year the squirrels took all the peaches, and cabbage moths are now eating a lot of the kale. I have given up on the idea of creating a food forest that will provide all our needs. This year, I haven’t had the energy to give any of it much attention at all.

But somehow, in the midst of it all, the garden keeps giving back to us in unexpected ways. The orchard has become a bird heaven. We now regularly see cardinals, a robin couple (who, after two failed attempts, are again playing with the nest on our porch), gold finches, house finches, sparrows, chickadees, catbirds, starling visitors, not to mention the turkey mom and her two babies that keep coming through, and so many more. The small birds love perching in the fruit trees–and I love seeing them there. They ate the few cherries, which I didn’t try to protect. I think they are also eating a lot of bugs. They even love perching on top of the stakes in the zucchini bed. We provide sunflower seeds in the bird feeder, and they planted sunflowers all around it with the droppings. So we are gifted with all this beauty.

Sunflowers in bloom around a green bird feeder with a small sparrow on it.

This has been a summer of much gifted beauty. Another example is the wild evening primrose. I pulled all of the primrose plants that had sprouted up in the orchard, because I knew they would be too tall and block the paths. But I purposely left the ones on the other side of our back porch, this one in front of irises that bloomed earlier. And now they sparkle a bit like a Christmas tree in July.

Tall evening primrose in bloom

Each year I do learn a bit more about how to garden. This year, it seems that what I am learning most of all is how much the earth gifts to us and to all her creatures, how generous and abundant she is, when we merely open to her and open to other creatures, and stop trying so hard to make something specific happen. I am feeling the interconnected family of beings, and especially the joy of birds who now find a home in our yard. It’s amazing! Finally, I just want to also express gratitude for a monarch butterfly who came to visit a few days ago.

Monarch perched on volunteer elecampane flowers

More Ordinary Magic

Goldfinch on dandelion stem, through deck rails

Remember when I described the beauty of seeing a goldfinch climb over a dandelion stem to get the seeds? But I didn’t get a picture then? A little magic happened again, and this time I was able to get this photo from our deck. The more wild and plant-filled our yard has been, the more birds of all kinds we see. They bring so much delight. (Sadly, we’ve also seen more ticks than before as well.)

In other news, the blue flag iris in the pond are blooming for the first time! We also have a lot of algae–likely because there are not enough plants, since several didn’t come back. But I am not too worried. I skimmed some out and I hope I can keep doing that until the plants expand, or I can add some more.

Blue flag iris blooming

I also finally was able to plant–in three different short spurts of time and energy–some kale and broccoli seedlings, and seeds of cucumber and zucchini. Lots of rain today, so they all got watered. I am humbled by this process of observing, doing small things that I am able to do, and hoping for the best. One thing is sure. Plants will grow!

Beauty

What we see out our front door: purple, yellow and white flowers on the esplanade

I have been marveling at the beauty of our front esplanade–formerly known as the hell strip. I planted it four years ago, with help from donated plants, and some donated labor too. Right now it is a stunning palette of white, blue/purple, and yellow, over green leaves: Blue/purple Siberian irises, yellow turkish rocket flowers, purple lupines, white bearded irises, and lots of white volunteer daisies are blooming, while other plants’ spiked leaves are filling in with green. Later in the season there will be other blooms. I can’t describe how joyful I feel to see it.

Close up of turkish rocket, purple/blue irises and white daisies
Close up a little further to the right, with white daisies, purple/blue irises, white irises, and a few tiny blue/purple spiderwort flowers just beginning to bloom. Low ground cover of thyme.

I am so grateful for these hardy perennials that require a minimum of care for this abundance of pleasure!

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.