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Two Days in May

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

 Dang, this is a strange and wild spring. It was January until about April 25; people were saying it wasn't April 25; it was the 115th of January. And that's exactly how it felt, like the winter that would never end. Then it ended and BOOM, on the first of May I walked into the greenhouse and all the plants that had been basking in its gentle warmth were suddenly and inexorably being broiled alive. Winter to summer in one day. I've been cooking this idea for a blogpost about May 1 and 2, all the crazy crazy stuff that happened when spring finally burst open like a pinata.

And then it all happened. It warmed up, and everything woke up, including me. The lull I'd fallen into, of just leaving my plants in the greenhouse until whenever, left in a hurry.

April 25, 2018. Creole Lady finally awakens, like Sleeping Beauty, from her winter-long sleep, and resumes dazzling me as if she'd never languished. Still in the greenhouse. Last week of April and it was still dipping into the lower 30's every night!

Now it was May 1. And the greenhouse looked like this. It was 93 in there with the vent and doors flung open wide. No question about it: My to-do list for May first had just been turned on its head. 

 I was going to have to empty it out today, and plant everything out into larger pots and planters, or into the ground. It was that or let them roast alive.

On April 11, I'd found this little female tan jumping spider (Platycryptus undatus) in a shoe in my closet. Well, what was she doing there?? I had brought her down to the greenhouse and released her on the geranium. And here she was again! I gave her another drink, which she received gratefully. She'd grown! And now she would go outside with the geranium.


I was sure when I set it out by the Bird Spa on May 1 that Happy Thought Red would never look this grand again. Once the wind and rain got done with it, it'd be a sorry sight. Little did I know how right I was...You don't set a 7' wide geranium outside and expect to keep it that way. But it was Live Free or Die time. The greenhouse was no longer a living option, and wouldn't be until next October. It stands empty from May 1 until late October, because it's just too hot in there for any living thing except paper wasps. The derecho of May 15 pruned it all right, but it still looks pretty impressive. It needed a pruning, anyway.

Before I realized that this (May 1) was D Day for the greenhouse, I'd started a couple of loads of laundry to hang out. And while hanging out the first load, I looked out across the meadow with a sigh and noticed that it was full of yellow rocket. Growl! That's an exotic mustard that cheerfully turns meadows into monocultures of yellow rocket. 
This is the before photo. Yeah, it's pretty. Pretty obnoxious! Each one of those plants has to be hand-pulled before it sets seed. Jeez!!

  This is the after photo. Meadow clear, and laundry basket plus trash can packed tight and full, not with dry clothes but with yellow rocket. I grabbed the nearest handiest thing, as is my wont. Just another thing on a naturalist's to-do list.

While I was weeding the meadow, I heard a meadowlark sing, and spotted him in the top of a tree in the sideyard. He couldn't be serious! Our 12-acre meadow wasn't near big enough for him to successfully nest. But it sure was nice to have him stop through and advertise. He appeared for three mornings, then was gone. His clear slurred whistle stays with me. It's the quintessential sound of springtime. 

While watching him, it occurred to me that I needed to check the bluebird box out in the orchard. 
A bluebird had laid a beautiful clutch of five eggs, then left them lying stone cold for at least a week. In a normal spring,  bluebirds commence incubating with the third egg, almost invariably. The last one or two laid have to hurry up and catch up with the first three so they all hatch together. Now here her eggs lay, cold as stones, when they should have been halfway through the 14-day incubation period. I had a hunch she was coming back, and a hunch that today was the day. 

But on my way out to her box, I found this. There ensued a hunt netting eight large morels, which I ended up taking to the New River Birding and Nature Festival to cook up and feed to a few lucky friends. I usually have morels to share there. If you're getting dizzy, hey, me too. Going, going, gone, all spring long.

Morels gathered, I forged on, knowing this was the day I'd find out if the bluebird eggs were being cared for. And it was!! The  eggs were warm as toast when I went out to check. Oh, that was the sweetest thing. They'd been so cold 'til now.

Just goes to show you: never second-guess a bird. They know what they're doing.

 Yes, we do.


While I was out there, I remembered it was the right time of year to check for Incisalia henrici, better known as Henry's elfin. Its brood plant is redbud, and there's plenty of that in the orchard.


I found my little man!!  I love this bug. I love going out to look for it, when I get a feeling it's out there, before the redbud even blooms. I've only ever seen it at the end of the orchard. And I've been seeing it there in early spring for 24 years. There's great comfort in that.

Back at the house, it was starting to look a lot like springtime! Hummer feeders are out; colorful planters deployed; greenhouse plants finding new places to thrive in the cooler spring air.  Camera and binocs always at the ready on the front stoop. That's how I bring you all this great stuff, with these Essential Tools. I've been told to expect my Canon 7D to die any old day now, as it's passing the usual number of actuations (190,000) that constitute a normal camera's life. So far so good. I baby that thing. 

The hibiscus were enjoying their shady new digs after the scorching they'd gotten in the greenhouse. 

Amazing to see jonquils still going strong on May 1, when the lilacs were in full bloom.

The first catbird celebrated arriving at Indigo Hill by taking a bath in the newly activated Spa! Oh what a wonderful thing to witness!

I found a silken tunnel in the lawn that I suspect might belong to a very large spider, perhaps Hogna georgicola. I've raked them up while raking the lawn, and I've dug one of them up in the garden before, so I know they go underground.


 It would be on the size order of this one. Big.

I think this is a Dolomedes fishing-spider.  Ain't skeert.

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that it was probably getting pretty darn hot in the tower room, where I'd been growing lettuce all winter, keeping us and the neighbors in delicious salads. 


Yep. Hot up there, too. So before Liam left for school I enlisted his help in carrying the heavy planters down two flights of stairs, one of them small and treacherous. I could hear the lettuce sigh in relief when it got in the open outside air, which moves and swirls. Down it would go to the bunny-proof glass table on the side patio.  

Man, I hated to cut this uber-sexy flower stalk off my North Dakota rhubarb, but it has to be done before the plant expends too much energy into making seeds. Rats!! I manured it and the peonies next to it as an apology. I mean, I put cow manure on them. Pfft. That sounded weird.

Here's a flower stalk I won't cut off until the last flower falls: my Encyclia cordigera, which is still stinkin' up the bedroom with paradisiacal scents of clove and heady musky perfume. Never has it had better blossoms. I credit manure tea!

Of course, the lawn needed to be mowed and raked, too. It needs that again today. There is so much more to do in spring and summer, but I take great joy in doing it all. It's my cross-training workout when I have no time to run.

Phoebe sent me a blissed-out photo from Maine. Yep, that's pretty much how I felt at the end of May 2, with all this done, and all this to enjoy.


One word from your blogs always always sticks with me like an earworm. (At least one, of course. I don't want to diminish the memorable qualities of the others.) Today's big winner: "actuations." In fact, "190,000 actuations." A life well lived, and the old girl's got a lot more in her, no doubt.

I have NEVER read one of your posts without scooting off to Google to look up something...this time it's Henry's elfin.
Oh, and finding the spider hole...did you read about the world's oldest known spider dying lately? Fascinating article about a trapdoor spider that scientists had been observing for 43 years? I love stories like that.

I always look forward to the first catbird of the year. Almost every year, my first sighting of him is perched next to our compost pile. I suspect that after a long journey, he looks upon it as a banquet, whether he is looking for vegetation or bugs. Catbird always has such a gleam of curiosity in his eyes, and seems unafraid of my approach. And I love his song; like a mocker, but with a jazzy twist to it.

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The most wonderful two days there! Loved reading this.

Beauty abounds at your hands! The lettuce makes my mouth water. Your energy level has always astonished me. Thanks for the lovely post. Kim in PA

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