The garden is popping and lively now at the height of summer. Echineacea and zinnias provide a place for butterflies to convene and sip while sitting. The zinnias are beautiful. I love how their petals curl open from the center, forming swirl upon swirl of soft tongues that shape a whole flower head. Amidst them the zucchinis and squashes are growing bigger than ever, thriving off the straw and shavings we spread in the beds last autumn from in the chicken coop, and the bees are heard and seen climbing around inside their bright yellow blossoms. Lamb’s quarters are sending silvery powdery seed clusters out and the mint is running rampant. When we walk through the bed and brush against them, they release refreshing scents all around. This year the broccoli and cauliflower grew big but bolted right away into bitterness; feels like it’s the year of squashes, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, as the lettuce did much the same as the brassicas, and the peas kind of grew and dried up really fast as well. So far, this year’s medicine is showing up as lots of yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace where ants climb about; less bee balm than ever, hardly any prunella. Changing climate in these mountains, after eight years of feeling out the growing pattern, it’s shifted.
Eight years it’s been since we found our homestead and moved to make our abode here. It’s been an experience with much learning and unlearning too. The past two years we’ve shared our hens eggs with black snakes. This year we found one had moved in again, and it was eating all the eggs. We disturbed it enough to keep it going before coming back again and again to the nesting box, eight feet up off the ground in the chicken run; it would lay coiled up hissing and striking at the long pole we’d poke in there. We’d hoped to scootch it out and into a bucket to relocate, but it got the better of us every time, all seven feet of it lunging out before it would drop and slither away into the underbrush.
While I wrestled with how to get it out of there without ending its life, it sealed its own fate when one day Layla went to feed the chickens and found one of the chicks that Goldie had hatched out, eight weeks old, stretched out in the shape of a snake from head to shoulders; the black snake coiled up above having regurgitated it probably after constricting and attempting to swallow it . . . .was it too big to gobble past the wings or had Layla interrupted it while it slowly sucked, I don’t know, but this was a bit too much for Layla. She’s been caring for our chickens since she was around seven or eight, and is now, at fifteen, our primary chicken keeper. When she found the chick in this state, she took the pitchfork in her hand and went for that black snake with murder in her eyes! She stalked it for a half an hour before she got it, after which Anousheh spotted a second one coiled up in a nesting box! Layla stabbed that one too, her outrage at the dead chick greater than seven feet of hissing striking intimidation coming at her and this time when it dropped out and tried to get away, our dog Clover had come by to see what was going on, and was on that snake in a second. Her method is very interesting:: she throws the snake in such a way that it falls hard and is somewhat dazed from the impact. She does this repeatedly until the snake is too stunned to do anything and then she gets in there and bites it quite dead. Two snakes in one morning. We moved their extremely long bodies to a bower of bee balm and yarrow to lay to rest intertwined with respect.
I feel a twinge of regret every now and then, wondering whether there was another way, and then I realize this is part of unlearning and learning:: an attitude perhaps around death and endings and beginnings and life that meets you in your face and shows you that it’s all part of a whole, and how you greet it is where an essence lives, what comes after springs from that, coiling and uncoiling, neither this nor that but this and this and a bit of that as well. I wrote a short poem afterward, may work on it some more, later . . .
It comes together
At the tip of a pitchfork
Thrust just so and it whips
Like a Rudyard Kipling tale
Wrapped around the tines
Mouth open wide fangs bared
Hissing and striking
Until there’s no more
Thinking, grappling, or hooks
. . . . in the meantime I am thankful for the eggs we now enjoy and find it ironic that our hens flew into the peach trees and ate up all the peaches, save the ones ripe enough to pick and ripen a bit more in a brown bag. They have moved on into the boughs of our laden apple trees, where they’re pecking at the fruits. Snakes eat eggs and die, do we eat the chickens now that they’re eating up the fruit?! Fair trade for eggs laid? Many questions, how many variations of response, is there reconciliation? Sooner or later we go to the river and swim with trout and in those fluid moments there are neither questions nor answers, just so many leaves fluttering above in layers between us and the blue sky floating by, snakes on rocks nearby sunning, and we are all together in a spiral, dancing with and part of a garden of life.