Tag Archives: gardening

Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

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*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


While I Ruminate

There are several posts brewing in my brain. A couple focus on my experiences writing and my opinions on writing theory, one on my current theological study, my thoughts on the recent Tolkien Fanfiction film, and perhaps one on recent personal experiences.

None of them are ready for perusal, and so I plan to share a few random things and then bore you with my plant-nerd ravings. It is winter, here, and the coldest we have had in some time. In short, it is the time when gardeners dream.

But for those who are indifferent to plants, I will leave that until the end and offer you a few new links in my sidebar.

The humorous: From the makers of that Wolverine Music Video I posted, I give you Glove and Boots! If you need something light and silly, filled with puppets, and made for nerds (especially those spawned in the 80’s, like me), then you will want to spend some time watching.

Art: In the last post, I also linked a post about Joel Cooper’s Origami masks, but I failed to link his blog. It is filled with astounding!

For Writers: I’ve had the link to this rabbit-hole on my sidebar for a while, but one of my upcoming posts will focus on the subject of tropes and cliches, so it is worth pointing out. This is a very useful post for writers, storytellers, and story-lovers everywhere, but I warn you, it is highly addictive. Another useful link for writers and curious minds, a blog by someone in my own profession of Government Information Librarianship, is the Writer’s Guide to Government Information.

For Linguaphiles:  My fellow word geeks, I offer a link to the Online Etymology Dictionary and the Phrase Finder, which has more than just phrases.

For history and story-telling geeks, like me, there is a website (one among many) with collections of American folklore and stories. It is further broken down into sub-categories, and yes, it includes all of America, not just the United States of.

Do you like critters? What about photography? At work, I keep my desktop cycling through beautiful images, and I get a lot of them here, at the National Wildlife Foundation. A bit of plant nerdiness… If you like animals and want to help them survive the constant changes in our landscapes, consider turning your yard into a certified wildlife habitat. If that is too much for you to bite off, then you can still do little things, like keeping a clean bird-bath, adding some native plants (which do a better job of supporting wildlife than exotics) to your garden, or building a brush pile, which supplies both food and shelter for many.

Plant and story nerd combine: This is a book on the Folklore of Plants.  Fascinating stuff, at least to me.

Now I start talking about plants and gardening.

My interest in gardening (late to develop, even though my mother is a brilliant gardener) was born out of my fascination with my local ecology and the native plants it rests on. Thus my current obsession with the cooperative blogs Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens and Beautiful Wildlife Garden is no surprise.

This is what has me daydreaming.

You may or may not know that, apart from roofs and pavement, a lawn is one of the most barren areas created in our developments. It’s close-woven, often exotic, and is shorn to where it offers little food and no shelter to anything.

Basically, more lawn = fewer animals, arthropods, and birds. It’s a sad equation.

I’m not saying we should eliminate all lawns and cropped fields. I like playing on a lawn as much as the next girl, and my dog does, too. However, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t use much of my lawn, and that unused part could easily be turned into something prettier and more useful to critters.

So, this summer, I am going to start the process of eliminating my front lawn.

In order to prevent my neighbors from having a conniption, I have to keep things under some control. I am going to build a path and be very mindful of what I plant where. Both for beauty and wildlife-value, I need a succession of blooms. I want some things that look nice in winter, too. It’s easier on birds and bugs if I don’t cut down my plants for the winter, so things that look particularly messy are probably not the best choices.

I want mostly native plants, because my birds and beasts and bugs are adapted to them, but I have my favorite non-natives as well. Daffodils, cultivated iris, crocus, a peony and even a non-native morning-glory (there are native varieties).

I want to attract birds of various kinds, including hummingbirds (which, by the way, eat insects), and cedar waxwings. Also, I want to provide not only adult food, but larval food for various butterflies, moths and bees. I’m the sort of person who also loves spiders, snakes, lizards and other creepy-crawlies, so the more the better.

To this end, I have some things already planted. A southern wax myrtle, black-eyed susans, butterfly weed, false indigogoldenrod, Mistflower, and native honeysuckle among others.

My list of plants to acquire is long. I want more kinds of milkweed, for butterflies, yarrow, and most of all, yaupon hollies.

Hopefully, in a few years, I will have many more critters to see and enjoy in my yard, the good, the bad and the ugly. Then, I will turn my furious attention to my back yard, where I hope to install a small pond and a bat-box.

One more thing. If what I am talking about is all Greek to you, maybe this post will give you a little idea: Vivian’s Meadow.

I will now stop tormenting you with my musings. I hope you found something interesting in this post. Peace be yours!


Poison

During my hiatus, someone poisoned my house.

The termite-letter for my home was through Ace Exterminating and so when it was time for me to have my place inspected for termites, I went to them. It seems I should have read the fine print.

Apparently this company thinks it is a good idea to give a “complimentary” spray to the exterior of houses when they do a termite inspection.  This possibility never even occurred to me. I imagine many people see a free “pest-control” treatment as a good thing. I most certainly DO NOT.

I called them to vent my feelings. The poor woman who received my call seemed to think I was worried about hypothetical children or my pets and immediately assured me that the insecticide was “safe.”

“It’s not my pets I worry about. It’s my spiders and bees,” I replied.  I could have said much more, explaining the thriving community of living things that I cultivate on my property, but I doubt it would have helped.

A brief silence followed, after which she offered to put a “do not spray” note on my record. Despite this, I will not use their company again. They may refrain from spraying my house, but their policy of “complementary insecticide treatments” is not one I am willing to forgive. I have sympathy for the woman who took my call and for the technician who was just following orders, but the company will not have my business.

I am not wholly against the use of insecticides. I will put down borax to end the ant-plague in my kitchen and I will use what means I must to keep moths out of my woolen clothing. These things have a minor impact on the arthropod population and are taking place in a fundamentally unnatural environment: the interior of my house. As I am relatively ignorant about the use of pesticides in agriculture, I will refrain from opening that debate here. This is merely representative of my feelings on the unnecessary use of pesticides around our homes.

What possible good could spraying the outside of my house do? No good at all, and the ill effects spread out before me like a miniature nuclear holocaust, with my brick walls as ground zero. This impacts everything living in my yard be it insect, arachnid, reptile, bird or plant. The  predators, be they spider, or lizard, or ladybug take longer to recover than their prey making everything worse, in the long term, for me as well! If this careless company has indirectly killed my garter snake or my blue-tailed skinks, I will weep as well as rage.

It is the thoughtlessness that deeply troubles me. One must assume that most people never consider the impact of using insecticides around their homes. Presumably all they consider is a reduction in the number of creepy-crawlies around their abode and their thoughts on the matter end there. No one has taught them better. If this were the attitude of a few people, the problem would not be great, but when I consider the number of buildings and yards this effects, I am horrified.

The health of any ecosystem rests largely on its tiny members. I wonder how much healthier my entire nation would be, ecologically, mentally and medically, if we confined our use of home insecticides and pesticides to “necessary only”  and cut out the use of such compounds for “convenience.”  No doubt we would even have fewer “pest problems” if we did this, considering that these populations manage themselves more effectively than we can when they are left intact.  Even if we only confined the use of insecticides to the interiors of houses there would be a large positive impact. Our indiscriminate spraying  harms the insects that most people love, like fireflies and butterflies, and can indirectly harm larger wildlife. Hummingbirds eat insects and spiders, as do robins and the above-mentioned blue-tailed skinks. These are beautiful creatures whom even the most insect-phobic person would not wish to harm.

We are shooting ourselves, repeatedly, in both feet and it frustrates me all the more because it ought to be an easy thing for us to change. There are more pressing issues for my nation to grapple with, but those problems are, for the most part, more complex and more difficult to face. This one ought to be a no-brainer. With a little bit of education and a tiny bit of self-control we could simultaneously save ourselves time and money and make a huge positive impact in our communities. I have little hope that we will, but to be silent about it would only make me part of the problem.

And so I urge you, as I will urge others, to Just Say No to the Unnecessary Use of Pesticides and to urge your friends and families to do the same!


Crocus

My mother bought me crocus bulbs for Christmas.

Actually, she bought them for me before Christmas, as I needed to get them into the ground before a hard freeze. She has trouble with the squirrels eating hers, crafty tuft-tailed devils.

She told me how deep to plant them, and an hour or so later, grubby and cold, I had them in the ground. Now if only it were late February or early March, when these tenacious, tough, delicate, brilliant eggs explode from the ground in their rush to be the first spring flowers! The snowdrops will laugh, for they are first, but the crocus know how to make an entrance!

These are pictures I took of my mother’s crocus, several springs ago. She has given me all these varieties save the dark purple. The gold remains my favorite, but its beauty is more compelling in person than film can convey.  Its stripes, near the base of the petals, are purple, but I have yet to coax my camera into noticing.


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