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Big Day Wrapup, and a Meditation on Gardening

Sunday, May 18, 2014

 A little drier and calmer after our interlude in the church, Chet and I  hit the road. A trio of large, fast-flying swallows comes bombing over. Being purple martins, and young ones at that, they are chatting as they go. I hit #78. Holy cow. 

We pass the Three Graces again. The light is flatter, but they are still beautiful, still swaying to their own music. I've got all three identified now. From left to right, they're red maple, sugar maple, black tupelo. How perfect is that? It's like a plate from the Sibley Guide to Trees, a book I love unreservedly.

Just a few hundred yards further on, I hear a wheezy warbler song that I know is a bay-breasted warbler. But I have to track it down. There's a lot hanging on #80. I finally get him in the binocs, playing tag with a male chestnut-sided warbler. There's a beautiful, designer symmetry to that. The beautiful brown-sided warblers, playing together.

I decide to explore the woods behind where I found the bay-breast, and find a gorgeous open oak stand with wood thrushes singing. Chet finds a saucy gray squirtle. We are happy. I'll come back to this new place.

As I enter the yard, #81 is finally up and out of its nest box. Tree swallow! And a red-shouldered hawk screams and dives with its mate. #82. 

Here my Big Day would end. I was still missing blue jay. Louisiana waterthrush. Least flycatcher. Whip-poor-will. All gimmes, all here, all missing from my list. I coulda had 86. I coulda been a contenda. Another Big Day, I will. 

The very next morning, I got up and heard blue jay, least flycatcher and whip-poor-will.  This is one irrefutable Law of Big Days. If you miss it, you will hear it first thing the next morning, when you're no longer doing a Big Day.

As you read this, part of the Whipple Bird Club, the part that includes me and Bill and Marcy and Steve and honorary member Tools, Dawn and Kyle and Bob Scott and maybe even Phoebe, will be running around Washington County looking for the odd blue grosbeak and northern parula. Oh yes we will. All day long. Big Day. A bit late in the season, but what can you do? We'll see what we'll see. 

I look with satisfaction at the red house with the well-tended gardens and yard. I've been working very, very hard to reclaim it for the spring, to weed and water and plant and arrange and clean up the debris of winter. It takes weeks, and some mornings I am sore to my bones, but it's a good sore. I wonder how long I'll be able to work this hard, this well. I wonder a little more with each passing year, when every chore takes a little longer to ebb from my bones. I keep moving. It helps.

Nobody but me really knows what goes into making it look like this. It just gets done, lovingly, invisibly and without fanfare, while everyone is at school and work.  Each garden bed, nay each plant! speaks to me, tells me what it needs day by day. I think about what kind of list I'd have to leave for anyone trying to take my place. And realize that nobody but me; i.e. nobody in their right mind, would try to do all this. It would be a vastly different place in very short order if I weren't here with my claw and trowel and shovels and rakes and garden cart, my tomato cages and chicken wire and matches and pruning shears, my boltcutters and poacher's spade and bonsai clippers, my occasional Roundup and my faithful and beloved John Deere. Hacking away at entropy, invasives, disorder, briar and thorn. Eliminating what I deem "not right" and encouraging what I think belongs.

For instance, after a long dry spell, 80's and hot wind, it rained for two days last week. It was gray and glowery and drizzly all day. If you weren't  paying attention, you might think we got some good rain, and you could relax for a couple of days. Well, all told we got less than an eighth of an inch over the two days. The soil just under the surface, still powdery, dry as a bone. I watered everything that morning, under gray and glowery skies. The plants thanked me. Hauling a hose around in the rain...that's real gardening, not Sunday gardening. You never really relax. You're keeping evil at bay, saving your little world, the one over which you have some control. That one. Your ark.

I'll leave you with the Three Graces in spring sun. From left, red maple, sugar maple, black tupelo. Red maple does the samba. Or the hula. Sugar maple dances like a mom, arms up. Black tupelo's doin' The Shrug.

 I keep meaning to come here with shears and cut those pieces of landscape fabric that stick out of the gravel path. I know, it's not my yard. But that bugs me. Messes up my compositions. Gardening, always gardening, even a mile and half from home.


Does the Chamber of Commerce know how much you do to make Whipple seem like Paradise-on-Earth!?

Great post. Please tell us what a poaching spade is and what purpose do matches serve in your list of garden implements?
I'm wondering if I need to add them to my gardening tools.

Posted by Evelyn May 18, 2014 at 3:58 AM

Dancing like a mom, with arms up! Love that.
On a day when we're holding my brother's wake, this was a very nice read Julie. Thank you.

Posted by Anonymous May 18, 2014 at 6:34 AM

I know. Yes, I really do. We must stay alive because nobody will love our bit of ground in the same way ever again.

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