Monday, December 28, 2009

Where Are the Deer?

There are five Deer Crossing signs on the four miles to my father’s residence. They are along a main road as well as the roads that swivel through housing developments. It seems that the more land is developed the more signs are needed. If the sightings are any indication, the deer are flourishing. I have seen young deer grazing in a development swale. I had to stop short when a deer ran across the path of my car. I saw one disappear into the scant woods behind someone’s house. There have been dead deer on the roads, too, sometimes along the busy section of a street, three in one season. Where are they coming from? Where do they live? I hope people are paying attention to the signs. It is easy to forget that these beautiful creatures are sharing our living spaces when most of the motion we see comes from cars and trucks.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In the Storm

We had a record-breaking snowstorm this weekend; almost two feet of the white stuff fell. It was exciting and beautiful though it caused problems. Our cars had to be excavated from the snow that completely surrounded them. The blowing wind swirled flakes into the bird feeders making it hard for the birds to grab the seeds. But the finches lined up anyway. There weren’t many choices for a meal. As soon as the storm stopped, I dug a trench toward the feeders to load them up again. The finches deserved that much. So did the juncos and the cardinals, the titmice and chickadees that waited in the bushes for a turn at the feeders.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Last of the Leaves

The trees are mostly bare but the streets not so much. This is the last of the leaves that have been raked and piled at the curb for our township to pick up. The mass of them blocks the sewer drainage and at times we have mini-floods. Next week they will be gone so visitors will have places to park again. I have mixed feelings about their disappearance. Leaf piles speak to the child in me. I have to resist clopping through them to hear the crackling sound dry leaves make and it takes all my adult will not to kick them high into the air. If no one is looking, though, I may grab a handful and toss the leaves over my head for the simple pleasure of watching them float down over me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Body of a Tree

Now that the leaves have fallen it is possible to see the skeletons of the trees and it is easy to see how much the tree resembles a body. The trunk is very like the core of our own bodies, supporting the thick branches that form the limbs and the offshoots remind me of the veins and arteries that run through our systems supplying them with nutrients. In the middle of one of the trees in my yard there was a nest, barely visible when the leaves coated the tree with their lush greenery. Positioned as it was, it looked like the heart of the tree. And perhaps it was, bringing movement and sound with the springtime birth of its occupants. What a glimpse into nature’s inner workings.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Children Crossing

There are lots of warning signs around town, some with words, some without – Road Work, Detour, Deer Crossing, Fire Station, etc. I find these signs helpful. The bright yellow school crossing signs featuring children walking are familiar sights alerting drivers to be careful in particular areas as kids aren’t always as watchful as they should be as they cross streets. I always look out for them. When I came across a pair of yellow signs the other day, I expected the usual School Crossing but that wasn’t what I saw. There was a Watch Children sign above and a Duck Crossing sign beneath featuring a mother duck followed by her ducklings. Well, why not, I thought. Children are children, whatever the species. Was there a “school of ducks” nearby? I scanned the road. It was duckling-free so I continued on my way, But those signs stayed in my consciousness, warning me to be vigilant on many levels.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I try to keep the bird feeders full or at least remind my husband to fill them. If I forget the birds drift off to find other sources of nourishment. It then takes a while to lure them back. I would hate for them to give up on me. I offer them good stuff, the black oil sunflowers seeds that they so enjoy. Maybe I should put out a sign – Out of Seed, Try Again Tomorrow – when the feeders are empty but I don’t know how to translate it into Bird. So I send out a mental message instead: Keep checking, please. The wait will be worth it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Love My Christmas Cactus!

I have a Christmas cactus on my kitchen windowsill. It is blooming like crazy! So I went online to see what I should do to help it grow. It seems that I should have been carefully monitoring its light, parsimoniously giving it water, and keeping it in a controlled temperature of 50 degrees before it would flower. I have done everything wrong. The kitchen is a) filled with light, b) probably the warmest place in the house, and c) an easy place to get water so the plant was frequently given a drink. According to what I was reading, this plant should not be thriving. Yet it is – beautifully. The only thing I can think of is that I talk to my plant, praise it a lot, and kiss it on occasion. Maybe it realizes that as a gardener I may be lacking but rules aren’t the only things that count. Don’t we all thrive on love regardless of circumstance?

Monday, November 9, 2009


The trees in my backyard have grown up together like old friends. They touch each other so that the Japanese Maples and the White Pines intersect, needles and leaves creating the illusion of trees holding hands.The branches of the Swamp Maple reach out to the Redbud, the leaves gently twisting in the breeze. The sun catches the underside making the leaves flutter like tiny birds. Mother Nature really knows how to stimulate the imagination.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Poor Trees

I'm still thinking about trees. We bought our house when it was ten years old. It is now forty years old. The trees that were once thin sticks planted along the curbs in the development are now huge. Their roots have spread under the concrete, often nudging up sidewalks into obstacle courses or sometimes running in long lines like octopus’s tentacles through the grassy end strips. Sometimes a tree becomes root bound and turns over and around its base so that it looks knotted. Poor trees. I wish they had more room to grow. It seems a sad legacy for such graceful beings.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Neighborhood vs. Tree

Remember the Lorax from Dr. Seuss? He spoke for the trees. Sometimes I feel inclined to do so, too. I am seeing the results of my suburban neighborhood’s aging on the trees. They were planted when the houses were originally built and now they are tall and fully grown. But the needs of people and trees sometimes conflict as when branches envelop electrical lines. The trees end up being pruned into odd shapes to accommodate the wires. When I look at them I see awkward shapes and thwarted beauty. Sometimes I worry that the tree will split in half, as some have, or that the tree will have been pruned so severely that it slowly declines and dies. And yet, what to do about the wires that serve the houses?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Holding On

The leaves of the tulip tree are just starting to turn yellow. This is a switch from its usual habit when they change color and drop in late August in a flurry of advance notice that autumn is coming. I wonder what shifted the tree's awareness. Maybe it, too, wants to hold onto summer a tad longer. Perhaps today's shift into cooler temperature and constant rain will convince it that it is time to let go. I understand its reluctance as I put on my heavy sweater before I leave the house. Even though I love the fall season and October is my favorite month, a sense of nostalgia overtakes me and I yearn for the freedom of my sandals. Ah well, I'll go outside to hug my tree and reassure it that spring is only half a year away.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wild Wind

The wind was wild today. Forty miles per hour, the weatherman said. The branches moved as if they were in a dancing frenzy and the music was primal. I wondered how the birds were coping, if their nests were being shaken to bits or dislodged by the frantic activity of their normally stable trees. With all the noise I never heard the neighbor’s tree crack. The beautiful Bradford Pear had snapped in half. I wonder if it will be able to survive. I hope so. I would miss its beautiful flowering in the spring.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Butterfly Reawakening

The bits of nature in my backyard delight me. Birds, rabbits, flowers, butterflies all have a place in my heart. But occasionally I am jarred into realizing that I have been less than aware of my surroundings. When something new appears, there is a reawakening of the senses – and a reminder that I am not a nature expert. Like the dark butterfly that showed up on the bush. I checked my butterfly and moth book but couldn’t identify it. That makes me all the more excited to see it. How can I take something for granted when I can’t define it? I keep looking for it and the search makes me aware of the rest of Mother Nature’s treasures.

Note: If anyone can identify this butterfly, please let me know. I may not be an expert but I am always eager to learn.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bird Rainbows

When a friend from the UK came to the US, she was amazed by the colors of the birds she saw here. There were bright red cardinals, vibrant blue jays, brilliant goldfinches. The birds so special to her are constant visitors to my backyard. Sometimes they are all on the feeders at once. Iridescent grackles and dusty robins fly through. Red-headed woodpeckers, speckled starlings, soft gray titmice all come around. I am always delighted to see these bird rainbows but hearing the admiration of someone who doesn’t have the same feathered parade reminds me to appreciate the beauty of what, for me, is so common.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Our Pepper Plant

My husband does not like to eat peppers. He can tolerate green peppers but forget the spicy ones. So it came as a surprise when we stopped at a farmer's market and he immediately picked out a pot of HOT pepper plants. He was drawn not to the food but to the vibrant colors: yellow, purple, orange, and red peppers blazed above the green leaves. While I chose corn and tomatoes, he bought the pepper plant. He placed the plant right outside our kitchen window where we could see it whenever we peeked out. As the season progressed, the colors changed. Everything was turning red. I think the plant is ornamental which is good because I suspect the peppers would be too hot to eat anyway. Meanwhile, we are enjoying the ever-shifting color pallette and may even save the seeds for another show next summer.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Grackles on the Feeders

Grackles are on the feeders – again. They come in flocks and eat everything. The smaller birds give deference to them and I can understand why. These birds are pretty large, as is their appetite. I shoo them away when I can to give the others a chance at the seed but they will be back, maybe later in the week or in a brief minute when they think the coast is clear. We can play this back-and-forth game several times before they finally take off. But their iridescent coloring shines like jewels in the sunlight and so I temper my need to replenish seed with appreciation for their beauty.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Wildflowers in Maine

I just returned from a vacation in Maine. The wildflowers are everywhere. Goldenrod lines the roads and Queen Anne’s Lace covers the fields. It is a joy to travel the back roads and see the profusion of Black-eyed Susans, the variety of asters, and rowssunflowers. Purple Coneflowers, like those I have in my front garden, share turf with their bright yellow cousins. I was told the Purple Loosestrife that seems to pop up wherever you look is not native to the state, an invasive plant that is spreading. It is hard not to appreciate its beauty, though, even as I struggle with my own local weeds.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Like Rabbits

I like rabbits. Some used to live under my neighbor’s shed and hop over to my backyard early morning and at dusk for a feed. But then the shed was dismantled. I wondered where the rabbits would end up. I still don’t know but I see them around so they must have found someplace local. I admit to being glad even if I can’t grow lettuce or bulbs because the bunnies like them. I’ll grow other things and enjoy the company of rabbits.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Gone But Not Forgotten

The Turk’s Cap lilies are finished blooming but they will not be forgotten. As their flowers were growing, sending orange petals curling down, they were also producing tiny round, black seeds that dotted the tall stems. The seeds drop to the ground and scatter. One plant becomes many the next spring. It is a perfect example of Mother Nature being fruitful and multiplying

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Nature in the Raw

There were three loud thumps against my kitchen window this morning. Birds were trying to leave in a hurry and weren’t watching where they were going. I knew what that meant – the hawk was around. I looked across the yard toward the trees. There was a lot of activity by the squirrel’s nest in the white pine. Then the hawk scorched out of the branches, its wings fully extended. Did the squirrels attack it or did it have a meal clasped in its talons? I couldn’t see and wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I was caught between the privilege of seeing nature in the raw and the discomfort of worrying about the participants in the struggle for survival.

Note: Later in the day I saw a squirrel with its neck scraped raw and a tattered ear. It looked as if it had been in a fight. Maybe it had – with a hawk – and survived!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Big Buzz

The buzzing is loud today. Not the sound of the bee visiting the Rose of Sharon but the insistent buzz of the lawn mowers all along the street. It bumps up what has always seemed such a peaceful part of summer to a noise on steroids. I wonder what the bee thinks of it all.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Busy Chipmunks

We have busy, busy chipmunks. They live under the herbs near the house. They scarf up seeds at the bottom of the feeders, stuff the seeds in their cheeks, and take off for their burrows. They are fast for such small critters, always scooting around, racing up-and-down the back steps, startling squirrels in the grass, and disappearing down holes in the ground before the vigilant hawk can grab them. I wondered how they got the name chipmunk. Then one day I heard this loud chipping sound in my backyard and saw a chipmunk belting it out, his whole body moving with the effort.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Butterfly Bush Musings

The butterfly bushes have been discovered! Tiger swallowtails air-float gracefully among the purple flowers. An occasional Monarch, too, adds surprise and color as it glides among the branches. If luck holds, a hummingbird will stop by, a hoped-for-but-not-counted-on guest. They are a treat to see, a meditation on beauty and fragility. Watching the comings and goings of these ethereal creatures helps me remember the lightness of my own spirit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hot Days

I have been staying in my air-conditioned house lately. Too hot to garden. But I check the goings-on out back and see the squirrels running around as usual, tails up like parasols keeping off the burning sun. As the afternoon shaded the backyard, I found one of them spread-squirreled on the cooler back steps. Pretty smart, more body surface to release the heat. But then squirrels are clever…about gaining access to bird feeders…in their bulb snatching…and their seed thievery. Yup, squirrels are something else. I have to respect them even as I try to outwit their antics.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mourning Dove Ballet

The mourning doves are bumbling along beneath the feeders, as usual, coo-cooing as their heads move forward and back with each step. One chases another and is chased in return. They take off in a flurry, as if some signal had been given, scolding as they leave. There is nothing graceful about these common birds, I think, as I stare at the now empty ground, each clumsy bird much like the others. Then from beyond the roof of the house, three doves fly back, wings delicately fluttering as they land in unison on the slim metal branch that holds one of the feeders. How beautiful a display it is - a mourning dove ballet, choreographed and executed with precision. I am immediately sorry about my assessment and reminded visually that it doesn’t pay to make assumptions – they often turn out wrong.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hawk Alert!

I was out back pretending to read a book but really just enjoying the ambiance of the late afternoon. There was a gentle breeze that took away the oppressiveness of the humidity. The hibiscus had put out nineteen blossoms, an enchanting sight! And finches were chatting in the butterfly bush. Suddenly, something big and feathery swooshed from around the house and landed in the tulip tree. It was a hawk! The energy, which had been so peaceful a moment ago, went into lockdown. Nothing moved or chirped or, seemingly, breathed, myself included. Had the hawk scored a meal? I slowly got out of my chair and walked toward the tree to assess the situation. The hawk took off. Life returned to the backyard. I wish I understood finch – they were having an extremely animated conversation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awed by Hibiscus

Wow! The hibiscus bloomed today. I have been watching the buds emerging and filling out. I knew the flowers would be big and bold but I was awed all the same. They are dinnerplate-sized and brilliant red. I feel like I should have a party in celebration for them because they won’t last long. They open in the morning and close by early evening. Tomorrow I will find them withered or fallen, though there will be new flowers taking their place. I think about the energy the plant must put out to produce such a magnificent display. Quite a gift to the world.