Sunday, August 20, 2017

More Garden (and Wildlife) Notes

A week in the life of a back yard gardener:

Every night a possum sneaks into my tiny back yard and eats exactly one half of one peach. How do I know? Because I pick up the fallen peaches every day. And every morning there is always one fallen peach--one big, beautiful peach--lying on the ground on the far side of the tree, so carefully incised down to the pit that it looks as if someone with opposable thumbs cut in half with a knife. I have never seen Ms. O. Possum. (I had to do a Google search of "What does possum poop look like?" in order to differentiate between skunk poop and opossum.) I did, however, see one of her young 'uns very early one morning in late spring when I went looking for Purrl. Both were in the planter area. Purrl was sitting sedately on the retaining wall, watching the little critter with wonder and amazement. ("Mom--is that a weird looking cat?") The little joey (yep, that's what they're called) was backed up against the neighbor's fence, growling fiercely.

By the way, "possum" has now become an accepted spelling of "opossum," so you folks my age can stop spelling it like this: 'possum. (Further note: According to the Oxford Dictionary, we are still using the apostrophe for young 'un--because it is a contraction of 'young one'--although most spell check software will then redline the "un." Less stuffy wordsmiths simply use "youngun" as the spelling--though they claim only old folks like myself use that slang term. Hmph.)

Around midday Monday I noticed a small mantis on the hummingbird feeder outside my kitchen window. I saw it periodically throughout the day, and again first thing Tuesday, hanging out to wish me a good morning. Can you see it?

I wasn't sure how to proceed, as the feeder needed refilling, but I didn't want to disturb whatever she was up to. Apparently the little diva hates paparazzi, though; as soon as I'd taken her photo (with my iPhone, no flash), she exited.

A couple of days later, when I went to fill the feeder again, there were two very tiny--mantises? manti?--hanging out on the plastic "flowers." When I very carefully the feeder, they climbed capably onto the Mexican Bush Sage and proceeded to blend in nicely.


This actually happened on Tuesday evening. I left Purrl sitting happily on the patio at dusk and walked across the street to ask a neighbor if she needed help loading something into her car. We talked. When I realized it had gotten dark, I hurried back across the street, looking for Purrl in the back yard. No Purrl. I walked into the house through the open patio door to find her hunched over the recently deceased Mr. Rat. Yes, I know, it's another life form that should be honored because-- okay, no, no, no, there are rats living under the house and they're using it for a toilet down there and just, NO. They need to vacate or die. I'm sorry I can't be more Zen about this. Good girl, Purrl-Jam!

But this made me rethink who was eating the fallen peaches. Now I wonder if it wasn't both Ms. Possum and Mr. Rat. Which, during my morning meditation after yoga practice, elicited this imaginary conversation:

Ms. Possum and Mr. Rat are two feet apart in the tall grass under the peach tree at midnight.

Ms. P: This lady is very nice. She leaves these peaches out for us. Also, she didn't let her nasty gray cat eat my Joey a few weeks ago.

(In my mind, the possum sounds very kind and feminine, like a hippie earth-mother or the type of mid-western woman who bakes pies for people in her church.)

Mr. Rat: Oh gawd I've smelled that cat. That thing needs to choke on a chicken bone and die.

(In my mind, the rat sounds like the governor of New Jersey. Don't ask me why.)

Ms. P: Oh dear. That's harsh to say about any living creature. Well, except perhaps for slugs and snakes. But they are delicious! And a girl's gotta eat! Ha ha ha ha!

Mr. Rat: Ha ha ha ha ha! Yeah, lady, I get yer point. Eat all the yard snakes ya want. I don't want 'em comin' down to my resort. We got it all to ourselves down there.

Later that morning, I went out to water and checked beneath the peach tree. For the first time in three weeks, there is no half peach gnawed down to the pit. Such is the circle of life....

After watering, I went out to walk Thomas and heard Mr. and Mrs. Raven calling repeatedly. They're raising two teenagers right now. I feel for them. Although their chicks are almost as big as they are, they still look babyish with their unruly feathers and gangly body parts. The patient couple continues to help them hunt and eat. One day last week, when the temperature was 102, I heard one of the ravens calling repeatedly over the course of twenty minutes or so. I was trying to write, but the loud "SQUAWK!" repeated every ten to fifteen seconds finally drew me away from my desk and outside.

"Raven! What do you want?!?" I called to the rooftops. (By now, I'm not concerned about what my neighbors think of me. I believe I've sufficiently established the odd-reclusive-writer persona.) In answer, one of them (Mr.? Mrs.?) flew down to the street and stood by the gutter, looking my way. Oh. Of course. Water. At that moment, someone's automatic sprinklers clicked on, and run-off began to trickle into the gutter. Suddenly all four Raven family members were in the street, guzzling water.

On Wednesday morning, when I heard Mr. or Mrs. calling, I looked up to see what was amiss this time. Nothing. Mom and Dad were just calling Junior and Junior to breakfast. What was on the menu? A rat, much like the one Purrl caught. When Thomas and I walked up the hill to the corner, I could see the roof of the neighbor's house, the proud parents standing by as one of the juniors tore into the flesh of the lifeless rodent. Again, the circle of life....


One of the recurring themes in Herman Melville's work is the underlying rot, decay and erosion under all things beautiful. (Thus, if you look closely at a rose bush, you'll see the aphids and leaf fungus beneath the blooms.) I see this constantly in the garden. Just look at my beautiful squash plants:

If you look closely at the photo above, you can see a tiny crookneck squash that has formed and now just needs to grow bigger before I can eat it for lunch in a week or so. The squash plants in the photo above the crookneck are zucchini, and while there is a tiny zucchini on one of them, alas, I will probably never get to eat it. All those big broad beautiful leaves are covered with tiny black insects on their undersides which are sucking the life out the plants. Sigh. I worked so hard! I dug out my bottle of Spinosad (a natural insecticide that kills insects in a very fascinating way without harming the other creatures in the garden or the creatures who eat those creatures) and sprayed everything--the zucchini, the crookneck, the tomatoes, the kale and radishes. Arrrgh. Being an organic farmer is hard.

I had to call my friend Harry, who has grown practically everything you can grow in his eighty-six years on this planet, to ask him when I will know when the corn is ready to eat.

"Well, when the tassels are brown and dying and it looks like a fat ear of corn," he said.

Oh. Well. Okay.

My son is visiting from San Francisco. If we'd taken a selfie together this time, I would post it here so you could see my giant smile. But we didn't. So here's a photo of Harry (mentioned above) talking to other writers (about writing--but just imagine him telling you everything you ever wanted to know about gardening):

I'm only growing radishes because my son requested them, so I pulled up a big juicy fat spicy one for him and watched him eat it. "It's good" was his less-than-lavish praise of the thing. "Good" was pronounced in a short, clipped manner, the entire sentence pronounced in less than a second without him making any eye contact. Which led me to thinking about how the pronunciation of that word--as he did, with a shrug in his voice, or in this fashion: "It's gooooood!"--can vastly alter the communication of a thought. I think these things because I'm a writer. I truly cannot help myself. I really did spend some time pondering that one word. Good. So that was good.

I had to pull up the zucchini plants and dump them in the green waste barrel today as they were so very full of the little black aphids I wanted to scream and light the plants on fire.

To comfort myself, I harvested two ears of corn and took them into the house immediately to boil and eat. It was tender, sweet, delicious, and worth all the work I put into it. Yum.

The crookneck squash, so far, is surviving. Fingers crossed. The tomatoes look beautiful.

And there is a pair of Roadrunners--the real kind, not the cartoon kind--hanging out in my neighborhood, which makes me very happy.
PLEASE NOTE: Real roadrunners are about the size of a chicken. They are not the size of Wile E. Coyote.

Note: This post was originally scheduled to go up on Sunday, August 13th, 2017, but in the two days before, all hell broke loose in Charlottesville, Virginia, and subsequently my heart spilled out onto the page in the piece that follows this one.

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