gardening, spiritual life

Enough to face the killing frost

“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” Humbert Wolfe, British poet

There’s not much left in the garden. But, it’s enough to sustain life through these last days, weeks of the season. A handful of cosmos, a butterfly bush, a bit of morning glory and a couple of potted flowers are still producing enough nectar and pollen to keep “our” bees and butterflies reasonably happy. There are enough seeds still in their pods to keep birds rustling through the vines and enough ground cover to keep crickets on the prowl.

Life is slow now. Butterfly wise, there has not been a monarch since early last week. Nearly every day during a prolonged hot spell they stopped and refreshed before heading vaguely south. Now, they are gone and we’re down to cabbage whites, a plucky little species that is the first to appear in the spring and the last to succumb in the fall.

The crickets, with their remarkable temperature-revealing chirps, are like a seasonal time piece they are now so slow. At night, it’s dipping into the 30s. There’s only a raspy criiiiiick…..etttt come dawn.

Yet it is still life. All of this life, abundant life, even as the countdown to the killing frost relentlessly continues. Isn’t that reassuring?

One generation of insect life winds down. Another is waiting, attached to the underbellies of leaves or tucked into the earth. Other animals are so very busy. Fur is thickened. Seeds cached. Leafy nests assembled. Sleepy rest comes to still others.

It is fall and God is as good as always. Life is. Life will be. And, that is enough.


Accommodating critters

“She has a memory of trees and fields and nothing more.” James Thurber, The White Deer

This morning, when the light was still low enough to be magical, a family walked down the sidewalk outside our house and headed for the school bus stop. Oddly enough, they all had four legs.

The kids at the bus stop and I — who went out to see what would happen — just watched, amazed. A six-point buck, a doe and two fawns of the year halted at the sight of the open-mouthed adolescents. They seemed to discuss the matter, then sauntered off onto a side street instead of proceeding into the wooded hillside beyond the bus stop.

I did not actually catch these deer in the garden, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was what made them overstay their safety window for neighborhood roaming. They’ve devoured the unfenced pots in the front yard. They’ve pruned the vines in the backyard, as well. If I could only get them to eat more strategically, it would almost be like having a gardener.

Yes, it’s that time of year. The deer do what they do — eat. I do what I do — prune. And, all through the garden, other critters make plans for a future that likely does not include them, just their progeny.

It’s true. There are egg packets and webs popping up all over the place. This year, I’m letting most of them stay, having read a gardening piece about the importance of not doing a thorough clean up until spring to save cover for small animals and avoid destroying insect eggs. Even the persistent spider who’s trying its best to make the front door look like the Addams family is in residence remains.

We’re accommodating “our” critters, in fact. Annuals such as zinnias and marigolds will soon be trimmed and hung upside down in bouquets for the birds to harvest. Perennials will remain knee high this year, a bit messy, but more like the wild nature for which we have tried to make an oasis.

Limited fall clean up is our most recent experiment in winter wild yarding. For several years, we’ve left a brush pile at the side of the house and mounded pine cones gathered from the woods atop all our yearround pots. The latter is pretty and it’s a delight to see the squirrels and chipmunks sneak onto a pot, grab a cone and head up a nearby tree. One window box, just outside the kitchen, attracts chickadees. They feel comfortable enough to perch there and eat, even when we’re having lunch just this side of the glass.

It’s hard to say who’s more at home this autumn. The deer, the squirrels, the chickadees, the garden spiders — or us.

community, outdoors

My last straw?

“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries.” Jimmy Carter, Christian, American president

Things started innocently enough. I did an interview with the teacher of an elementary school class that was asking local restaurant owners to call it quits on plastic straws — à la Starbucks. By the time the story was done, there were impassioned pleas from fifth graders, photos of a sea tortoise with a straw stuck up his nose and a casual-but-sudden decision on my part to stop using what a Southern cousin refers to as “sissy sticks.”

That’s right, I’m sipping like a big girl. Sort of.

Going strawless has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. First, this is Appalachia, not L.A. or even Seattle. Servers — just like cashiers confronted with a mound of canvas bags at the front of my grocery order — are generally confused. Some of them actually throw the refused straw in the garbage for some reason, making me wince. Those poor, poor turtles.

Some of the servers clearly wonder if I have, well, difficulties. It’s almost as if I have said, “Oh, don’t worry. I don’t need a fork. I’ll just eat my lunch right off the plate.” You laugh, but I can see that very thought in their eyes. It’s there, trust me.

There’s also the problem with ice. School being back in session and a sense of calm having fallen over the house, my mother and I did a massive refill-the-larders run this morning. We deserved that Mexican lunch. We really did. But, the ice nearly did me in. Without a straw, any iced beverage is liable to turn into an avalanche, spraying my face and shirt. And, it did.

Maybe I can’t sip like a big girl.

But, problems aside, I’m doing my best to stick to this last-straw thing. I’ve even checked with my favorite coffee place to make sure I can get iced coffee in one of their refillable travel mugs. It has a sippy spout, so I can see this actually working out. For me and for the turtles.


gardening, spiritual life

Listening to the season

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.” Charles Bowden, American writer

Some people keep elaborate sports rosters in their head. Some know all the words to Broadway tunes or whom various Kardashians are dating. I know seasons.

It’s an internal game that started the year I was 22 and a brush with bad water nearly killed me. The very day I was released from the hospital, a job dropped into my lap that was too perfect to be anything less than God. Among many other qualities, it required me to be outdoors for long stretches, soaking in sun and especially lovely air that swirled from the beach to the dunes to the forest and back again.

A slow job, it allowed me the time to not only recover from the upheaval of illness, but to discover that God is never out of sync. Ever. I saw this in the change of seasons — 10 whisper-holy months of watching fiddle heads turn into proud fern fronds, summer-blue seas turn into cool steel come winter, lemon-yellow goldfinches fade into near invisibility to match the russets and grays of fall.

There was no randomness here. There was beauty. There was order. There was a resolute progression so breathtaking I fell in love with the God who would make such a world. That near-year, so set apart from the rest of my life, was the closest I have ever come to understanding the essence of God. And, it stuck with me.

To this day, I watch. So closely, I could probably narrow the time of year in my corner of Appalachia down to a window of two weeks or so without a calendar. Within my own garden, I might be able to get even closer. I have learned what a morning glory vine looks like from day to day to day. It’s true. The switch from high summer to late summer is settling in as I write. Glorious in its inevitability.

Homer Hickam, aerospace engineer and author of Rocket Boys, says he views math as one of God’s languages. I am a writer. That is not a language that I speak. But, that year in the dunes, God spoke clearly and distinctly and I liked what I heard.

If you listen closely, I imagine you can hear Him, too.