Garden of Life

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
Only dueling
Only deliverance.

. . . . 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.

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Mid-Summer Swinging

O will you lay with me
Beneath a shady tree,
On a ship we’ll set a sail
Row out to meet a whale,
Under the clear bright skies
We’ll swing and shut our eyes,
O will you come with me
Out to the apple tree.

summer days . . . rains washed out the patchwork shovel mending of the driveway, re-rutted and grooved them anew, similarly in the garden . . . the bales of straw we so cleverly laid out on pathways have kept the weeds down, however, they have also sprouted! What a chortle!

the beds are giving chard and peas,
hairy motherwort, nuzzling bees,
the ‘new’ garden flower
blooms magenta hour after hour,
ladybirds spotted inside the fold
sit dark red on yellow quietly bold

the old mulberry tree fallen over long ago has rejuvenated and sprouted shoots, with a bit of pruning and clearing of thorny thicket we climb around and upon the gnarled intertwined trunk . . . in crevices where bark has decayed there’s plants sprouting and down low from out of cracks, mushrooms climbing; what a tree, majestic is she!! . . . we enjoy fruit and shade at her side where she does abide with a bramble left behind her where rabbits reside . . .

this solstice we gathered and celebrated mulberry, hummingbird, hollyhocks, and daily lilies, simple pleasures with daylong arms and firefly nights.

Some like it hot

 

It’s heating up quickly here in the Blue Ridges; showing in the garden where peas and lettuce, in past years their pods swelling with sweetness, leaves juicy and fresh at this juncture, are already beginning to bolt.  We’ve had downpours, lots of rain all at one time, deluged with water after a dry warmish winter with next to no snow.  Mixed up into this are mood swings, from warm to cold to warm to hot to cold and wet to hot, fluctuating differently than comfortable predictable patterns.  Which asks the question,  to ponder ponderously the preponderous until it’s preposterous?  Or the other question comes a calling with fish in tow:: how then to fluctuate with the flow, swim with the current, surf the wave?

We’ll  be popping in tomatoes and cucumbers along those pea trellises, they love the heat in which they grow and thrive rather than bolt away, sow beans and squashes;  water in the evenings followed by rain dance . . . which requires mortar, pestle, shells, and firefly’s . . . wait and see what happens . . .  could be ‘the’ year for heat loving plants rather than cool season ones in these mountains for a change.

The cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower are under cover, cloaked in stealth away from the sight of those agents, those cabbage butterflies, so white and dainty, yet devastating once they get to setting eggs that hatch green camouflaged caterpillars that creep and crawl and devour the leaves, leaving behind dainty green lace.  The row cover also gives them a bit of a buffer from the heat, keeps more moisture in as well, so we’re hoping to enjoy them and who knows, the peas may yet get to springing up.

In the meantime, there’s quiches with eggs from the hens and asparagus, nettles, lambs quarters, mint tea, and best of all, though the driveway was flooded and battered, a little stirred and partially fried:: twas nothing a few boys with shovels couldn’t patty cake patch back into ship shape, dare I say, better than before 🙂

Workdays

Sixty bales of straw.  Half went around our fruit trees::  they needed heavy mulch, and with chickens and a dog scratching, shredding, and scattering mulch all over the place, I’m trusting these bound bales, squared and trined around the base will do the trick of killing the grass and simultaneously mulching, so with time there will be a clear dirty skirt down below.  Let’s see, we pulled back the grass at the bottom and then baled the trunks without touching them.

The other half went into the garden, where we’ve begun working once more, laying straw over the pathways that have tamped down sawdust from last year smashed in and trodden, setting up string for peas to climb and twine around. Chickweed’s up, dead nettle, garlic mustard, dock, catnip, anise hyssop, and daffydills; sparrows are singing once more and the morning slopes are covered with robins hopping about.  Lively and next week we’ll sow seeds for peace.

Began cauliflower, chard, broccoli, kale, cabbage, tomato, zinnia, and lettuce seeds under lights, and mice have helped themselves to all but the zinnias and chard, going so far as to wiggle under the lids on the trays and feast and scratch!  After the new moon in a few days, will restart seeds, am going to seed heavily so any remaining mice nibbling will simply be ‘thinning’ . . . Ahmad has been setting mice traps with cheddar and so far he’s caught a couple, which may make all the difference too.  In the meantime, we’re having fun moving straw and building huts and gates 🙂

May play

 

All the world’s green and lively here on the mountain.  Down the driveway we go to and fro daily.  Pedicularis is up with curved barbed blossoms spiralling spiralling crystallized, bumble bees love this plant!  And coltsfoots in blossom and seed stage simultaneously, beautiful in both carnations.

Sometimes we walk then sit and listen to the birds sing, spot the first swallowtails.

Sometimes we gather greens along the way for teas and tinctures and tastiest of all: pesto!  We vary it up  . . . chickweed, chicory, dandelion, burdock, pedicularis leaves, with a bit of nutritional yeast, wild onions, garlic mustard and olive oil on fresh, warm from the oven sourdough bread is our favorite most food right now.  Sprinkled with blossoms, MMmmm.

 

 

Sometimes we play in the creek with sprites and nixies and much merriment, the creek gurgles and sings and the water’s full of surprising gifts.  Sometimes we slide and slip and it’s a squealing wet time before we wind our way home, multi headed; passing Jasper around on our shoulders.

 

 

Sooner or later we’re back in the garden, then before long into the woods.  It’s a mellow mixture of playworkplaywork melody.  The skies and the trees agree.  Bluebird would too but he’s kind of busy with dandelion seeds and cocks his head in acknowledgement instead of whistling.

 

 

 

April showers

 

April showers and May pops out in the woods, no apples as yet.  Indeed, the apple trees haven’t a single blossom on their leafing branches this year, though the peaches and plums have flowered fragrantly and flagrantly sweet.  The mornings are crisp and cool, as are the nights, but the lengthening days are bonny and bold and bright!!

We’ve been in the garden all March, laying out beds with fallen branches and logs, though we’re still working on filling the pathways with woodshavings and sawdust gathered from our neighbour’s portable sawmill setup.  This year we’re experimenting with a slightly managed garden effort . . . . the aim is to keep the pathways free of plantlife, giving access to the beds in which seedlings and weedlings will grow communally.  Cabbages and dandelion and chicory, pac choi and chickweed, milkweed shoots and peas; by the time the milkweed’s grown, the chicory flowering, the peas will be long gone, their space occupied by cucumbers or squashes or something like that.  We love food, we love wilderness, we love fairies, and we love diversity living in the garden right beside our plantings all mixed together; there’s nothing quite like feathery sprays of Queen Anne’s Lace to sweeten the air and create a place for the fair folk to come reside above beans alongside bees.

It’s a busy time with the beds all laid out and ready; we’re getting set to transplant the kales, cabbages, napas, chards, and lettuces started indoors earlier then seed peas, cilantro, borage, dill, and calendula following the rythyms of the moon moving through the constellations while orbiting earth alongside of planetary positions.  And the birds sing on while we playfully work, step in and out in search of eggs 🙂

 

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