Finger-combing

Lambs' ears filling in around the crocus patch.

Lambs’ ears filling in around the crocus patch.

Finger-combing. I love it. I love the word, and I love doing it in the garden. I can’t remember when I first learned the concept. I’m sure it had to do with hair, finger-combing hair when a brush or comb was not at hand. I learned years ago it’s the best way to freshen lambs’ ears in the garden, and it’s so much fun! With loose wrists and spread fingers you just sweep through the old dead leaves and they fly off the plant and scatter around it, revealing the tough-though-tender-looking new green leaves. I’ve always waited until spring to “cut back” the lambs’ ears so that I can finger-comb them instead of try to trim them with clippers.

One advantage to leaving most of the fall cleanup until spring is it turns out there are a lot of other plants you can finger-comb instead of clip, because the dry stalks or stems have softened just enough to break off easily. So you save your arthritic thumbs the work of squeezing clippers, and engage your whole hand, both of them in fact, in the more tactile experience of finger-combing. Other plants that respond well to finger-combing are partridge-feather, silver horehound, all those low-growing fuzzy-leaved plants similar to lambs’ ears, and anything else whose stems aren’t too woody. I spent much of my gardening time this week finger-combing grasses, gallardia, poppy mallow, and even the pond plants.

Partridge feather with miniature irises and the hunk of petrified wood that June Stewart, my landlady in Jensen, Utah, twenty-five years ago, gave me.

Partridge feather with miniature irises and the hunk of petrified wood that June Stewart, my landlady in Jensen, Utah, gave me twenty-five years ago.

Curly rushes, cattails, and water iris, a mess after winter, benefited from finger-combing yesterday.

Curly rushes, cattails, and water iris, a mess after winter, benefited from finger-combing yesterday.

Finger-combing the pond plants revealed the goldfishes' favorite hiding place, but something unusual was going on...

Finger-combing the pond plants revealed the goldfishes’ favorite hiding place, but something unusual was going on… A Goldfish Vigil, apparently.

... A Goldfish Vigil.

The Snowfish lay dying on her side on the pond floor, as her cohorts and spawn all hovered over her.

I am inordinately fond of my goldfish. I may have mentioned this before. Five years ago I bought eight feeder-fish for 28 cents each at the pet store, and settled them into the pond. Four of them died within the first week, but the other four have thrived, and founded a colony of generations of spawn. I named the originals, Snowfish, Lou (after the saleslady who kindly let me pick each of the eight), Finn (also white but with an orange spot at the base of his tail fin), and AmytheFish, the little red-haired girl, after my childhood friend who told me the fastest way to kill a goldfish was to name it. AmytheFish has defied the odds, as have her companions. Snowfish is the first of these originals to meet her demise, but she leaves Snowfish Junior and a handful of other snow-white fish behind to take her place.

At least one new generation a year shows up first as tiny grey fry an inch or less long. Many of these feed frogs or snakes or salamanders, or indeed even their progenitors, but always a few survive. Over a period of time, the grey fry grow into their colors, mostly orange, but some white, some black and orange (the Halloweens, which usually lose their black eventually), and some orange and white, like Snout, and Snout Junior, who each are all orange with a white, of course, snout. This year, I think a couple of the Halloweens may keep their black, also, and add a new variety to the gene pool, as they’ve exceeded the size when most of them lose their black. Ridiculous, I say, that I should be so invested in these little creatures. But I am, and so I was sad yesterday to see Snowfish lying on her side when I finger-combed the rushes. Then this afternoon, when I went to the pond to meditate, I noticed that Lou, Finn, Snout, and dozens of smaller fish, were all hovering over Snowfish, as though sitting vigil with her as she transitioned. It was very moving. Despite the possibility that I instantly recognized that they might just be waiting for her to die so they could begin feasting on her flesh. Oh well. Either way, an interesting phenomenon.

Meanwhile, AmytheFish swam alone at the far end of the pond, alone in her grief perhaps, or just because.

Meanwhile, AmytheFish swam alone at the far end of the pond, alone in her grief perhaps, or maybe just because.

This week I removed the insulation panels from the beehive, extending their doorway a couple of inches on each side, and revealing the propolis they laid down to seal the winter doorway (upper left). Also shown in the center, a propolis track along which, with the winter door in place, the bees came in and out.

This week I removed the insulation panels from the beehive, extending their doorway a couple of inches on each side, and revealing the propolis they laid down to seal the winter doorway (upper left). Also shown in the center, a propolis track along which, with the winter door in place, the bees came in and out.

All the bees I’ve photographed so far this spring have been new bees, evidenced by their pristine unbattered wings. Back in early February, there was a great buzz of activity around the hive door which I noticed in passing. This was during the worst of my dizzy-head, and so I didn’t pay too much attention. It never occurred to me that they might be swarming that early. I’ve since learned that indeed they could have swarmed in February, and I wonder if they did. The line they constructed  might have been an indicator for the new bees, much like the mound these bees built when they first arrived in the hive nearly two years ago; I noticed then that they crawled over the mound and spent some time on it leaving and returning to the hive. Then after awhile, some bees did that while others zoomed straight out and straight in. Presumably as the bees became familiar with the hive and the course in and out they no longer needed the marker mound. I think this line served the same purpose. Within a few days after removing the winter panels, the bees had removed the line, and are now using the corner of the door again. Amazing.

Leaving and returning

Leaving and returning.

But where are they going? Several new patches of irises have opened, but bee visits to them have tapered off. This bee is drinking from between flowers on the narrow-leaved irises, the last of the four varieties to open.

But where are they going? Several new patches of irises have opened, but bee visits to them have tapered off. This bee is drinking from between flowers on the narrow-leaved irises, the last of the four varieties to open.

The next flower to bloom, European pasque-flower, opened just three days ago, and so far I've not caught any bees on it.

The next flower to bloom, European pasque-flower, opened just three days ago, and so far I’ve not caught any bees on it. There are a few more patches, and I hope the bees or someone will discover them as they continue to bloom.

But where are the bees going? They come and go from the hive at a great rate, many straight east into the woods. They must have found a new source of food; perhaps some wildflowers are beginning to open.

But where are the bees going? They come and go from the hive at a great rate, many straight east into the woods. They must have found a new source of food; perhaps some wildflowers are beginning to open.

So the dogs and I explore the forest, looking and listening for bees.

So the dogs and I explore the forest, looking and listening for bees.

But finding mostly only the splendid juniper trees.

But finding mostly only the splendid juniper trees.

And with the advent of Spring, Ice Canyon begins to melt. Winter's splendor gives way to the joy of Spring.

And with the advent of Spring, Ice Canyon begins to melt. Winter’s splendor gives way to the joy of Spring.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s