Sunny Days Slip in Between the Raindrops!
Winter took a long time coming this year. In fact, I was so lulled by spectacular fall colors and balmy temperatures that I quite forgot to put the garden to sleep. Then I couldn’t. Snow, drear, and cold shooed my better gardening angels away and kept me indoors.
At least the snowfield, once dimpled with tracks of junco and squirrel, rabbit and raccoon, has ceded ground to sunshine, but the garden has lost all memory of last fall’s brilliance. No longer do bright shawls or icy blankets distract us from dingy, cribbled leaves and broken stems that an irritable winter left for us to clean up.
With great resolution I stride forth on a clear day to rake and trim, impose some order on the shambles. In the stillness, the benevolent Sun God begins to work on me, warming my bones and tickling my face . . . Hmm. . . mm. . . Maybe all this raking and trimming isn’t so necessary right now . . . Maybe I could wait a while . . .
Instead of raking, I begin to putter. Instead of trimming, I take some time to look and listen, touch and smell.
With the flash of autumn gone and the garden converted to sepia and silver (a more elegant description than dingy and cribbled), a world of whimsy opens up to me.
Starbursts and sea urchins.
Pixie caps and petticoats.
Streamers and space ships.
Fairy cups and mouse parasols.
Honeycombs and featherdusters.
Ferns have crisped and curled and shriveled in reverse ballet of their springtime unfurling. Do these convolutions help release spores?
The dry, split-open, splayed husks hanging from hosta stalks (shame on me, even weekend gardeners pull out hosta stalks) really do look like rows of caps for pixies, with black angular seeds poking out like unruly locks.
Distinctive, diminutive seed capsules of clethra that cling to stems through winter could be cups for pixie ambrosia (except they are already stuffed with seeds).
Now that blooms have faded, seed heads that are clustered in umbels on plants like Joepyeweed and sedum, could be parasols for mice. No wonder there are so many tales of wee folk in the woods.
Honeycombed cells that remain on stems of monarda still retain their signature pungence. The familiar sweet gum fruits that crunch under foot and make spikey holiday decorations could be space ships landed from some alien micro-world.
Without their petals, purple coneflowers, also known as echinacea, become sea urchins, those mysterious creatures of the tides.
In fact, the Latin term for sea urchins and their starfish cousins is echinoderm, or “spiny skin.” When all the seed-bearing spines fall away, a miniature hollow tepee remains on each stem, cozy way station for spider eggs or small creatures that need a winter refuge.
A breeze drifts by and crisp petticoats waltz in the wind. Yes, those hydrangea blooms could have been cut down earlier, but now, with petals bleached muslin and etched with veins, they could be the stuff of fancy dress balls. Do they give shelter to sleepy buds?
Tousled streamers of dried grasses spiral out of control, bring me back momentarily to the clean-up I should be doing.
Seeds from a butterfly bush swirl like fine dust as I jostle the plant (no I didn’t cut those down, either). Now I know why we find seedlings in yonder beds. What color will their blooms be? That’s a mystery to be solved.
I touch fuzzy seed heads of New York ironweed, ageratum, and aster, and they are softer and more pliant than I would think. Wee feather dusters for a wee cottage? More practically, tufts of down for nests.
From a gardener’s perspective, there is the matter of seeds attached to the fuzz, oh dear.
I hope the sprawling white wood aster doesn’t shirk its camouflage duties. Its relaxed stems seem to distract hungry rabbits from prostrate phlox beneath.
As I walk, I hear continual scuffing and scratching. Quiet chirruping, too, sotto voce murmurs not meant for anyone’s ears. Has the Sun God touched creatures of woods and garden, too, and are they humming their enjoyment as they fill their bellies?
Safely hidden or boldly surveying, thrashers, wrens, sparrows, cardinals, mice and squirrels are scratching out a living on our plot. I see titmice and chickadees clinging to goldenrod, plucking their dinner. Below ground, earthworms and millipedes will be waking, hungry for seasonal discards, pooping out new soil.
Where would they go if I wiped the slate clean each fall–if all of us wiped it clean? What would they eat? What would they use to build homes?
Mother Earth does not care so much for clean slates. She sweeps the leavings of summer into tatters of winter. A host of creatures will scoop up the tatters.
They’ll recycle them one way or another, and next spring new life, sweet song, and rich soil will be cast over a new-begun land.
I hear the barred owl that lives deep in our bottomlands. Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all? he calls in his distinctly southern drawl. Can courtship, mating, nesting and a new family be far behind?