I’ve been grateful this week for lots of rain to nourish the earth, replenish the aquifer, water the garden. And I’ve been grateful for plenty of sunshine and busy pollinators stocking up before they slow down, perish, or leave for winter.
It’s not the same thing to me as it is for those who adhere to the ‘business-as-usual’ paradigm. I’m grateful for progress in slow time. I’m grateful for a slow but steady weed-eater who munches the mallow, bindweed, and purslane at his own pace day after day all summer long, amazingly keeping it in check throughout the yarden.
I’m grateful for the slow progress of peppers, and all the other plants in the garden. They take their time growing roots and leaves, then slowly bring on blossoms and set fruit, and the fruits ripen incrementally day by day until suddenly there’s a flood of them ready to eat, freeze, can.
I’m grateful for the slow progress of the tropical drapes, envisioned as a dream decades ago. I spent years collecting fabrics for them, all cotton, many shades and patterns of greens, a few browns, blues and other colors. I spent months creating the keystone appliqués for each panel… and then I boxed them all up after my mother died and I returned home to a house unlivable that took four months to disinfect. The brick floor was grouted with mouse shit; every flat surface in the house was covered in mouse shit, from the bottoms of the kitchen cabinets to the dresser drawers upstairs. But I digress: that’s another story. Suffice to say I didn’t pull out the drapes or any other creative endeavor for a long time after that, until the stench of Clorox was a distant memory, the brick floor replaced, the dresser burned, and so much more effort expended to reclaim my sacred space.
Life careened onward, and every winter I thought I should get back to those drapes for the sunroom. But I never did, until finally this summer life’s demands slowed down a little bit and I looked to Biko for inspiration on how to move through my days: slow and steady, taking a little bite of this, a little bite of that, as I amble through the hours with peace and ease. Finally accepting my own tortoise pace, that’s what I call progress.
Loving may be the healthiest thing we can do. It doesn’t matter so much who or what we love, but that we engage our hearts in connection with other living beings. I love my crabapple tree, and make time to appreciate it every day that it’s in bloom, and as its petals fade and blow off in these planetary winds, settling on top of the pond; and I pay attention to it through its fruit growing cycle, and as its leaves turn in autumn, and as they fall off toward winter.
I love this new little dog, and feel tenderness when I see her fall asleep in the sun while I sit under the crabapple tree sipping morning coffee. I found the original shelter she came from in New Mexico on Facebook, and messaged them to find out more about her. No wonder she’s so well-behaved. She wasn’t a stray, she was an owner surrender: she came from a family with children and cats, but there was another baby on the way and the mother couldn’t manage it all. I look at Wren sometimes and think, How could anyone give up this little dog? And then I remember something I heard the other day: a friend said, “Any time I think of someone How could you do that…?, the Universe eventually says, Lemme show you….” When we judge others for their choices, we often find ourselves before long in a similar situation making similar choices that we never thought we would or could. Roe v. Wade comes to mind…
So instead of wondering how someone could have given up this precious little being, I asked the shelter to please let that woman know, if they had the opportunity, that her dog has found a safe and happy forever home, where she is making an old lady a wonderful companion. She jumps up from her pink princess bed to follow me every time I go outside, and feels safe enough now to explore the yard on her own, but she comes running whenever I call her. She’s progressing well in her turtle-hunting training, and investigates the compost bins more frequently than is strictly necessary.
This evening, in the weird yellow-grey light of dusty-windy sunset, she followed me into the lilac pen, where we circled the blooming shrubs just wishing the phone could capture the heady aroma as well as the shifting colors. This year lilac flowers are profuse, though still fleeting. I make time multiple times each day to spend attention on the lilacs, loving these shrubs in this brief, abundant, drunken season.
I’m grateful for all the pollinators. I haven’t even cracked the manual for the new camera, and the current lens won’t give me the crystal clarity of the macro lens on the old camera, but I’ll get there eventually. Meanwhile, playing around with it this morning I caught a few pollinators doing their thing. Imagine where we’d be without them! So grateful for pollinators, and the fruits of their labors.
I’m grateful for the 4000 species of native bees in North America, and the dozens that forage and nest in my yarden. They’re responsible for pollinating about three-quarters of all our food plants, but their very existence is not well known to the general public. I didn’t know about them until I started raising and photographing honeybees, and paying attention to all the other pollinators I discovered through my camera lens. There aren’t nearly as many individual bees or bee species in the garden this summer, making me cherish them all the more. You can learn to identify and plant for native bees with the Wild Bee ID app put out by the Center for Food Safety, and enjoy some of my better photos while you’re at it.
I’m grateful for most surprises these days, as I can experience them as neutral at worst most of the time, and good, fascinating, or delightful at best in almost every case. I can imagine some surprises that would be distressing, but why? Why would I want to make myself suffer even more than everyday life itself demands?
How is it that with all this extra time on my hands I still can’t unclutter my house? Oh yeah… the garden is waking up.
I simply don’t have words to convey the maelstrom of emotions that swirl within like March winds this spring. Above all there is gratitude for the many blessings this life has given me so far. I’m grateful to be an introvert who works from home anyway. I’m grateful that I have a reasonably healthy body, though my immune system is not robust and neither is my right lung, which never quite fills all the way. I consider myself to be fairly high risk, and so I’m grateful I have friends willing to shop for me and deliver necessities. I’m grateful I’ve worked hard for nearly thirty years to create this beautiful refuge, which now offers solace and peace amid global turmoil, and I’ll be grateful when I am again able to share it with people.
Other emotions may be less healthy but are also valid: rage at the rampant greed and graft manifesting at the highest levels of government during this pandemic when all humans should be working together to stave off despair and death; disgust at the ignorant response by trump cult believers that is causing so many more Americans to sicken and die; despair that the dying petroleum industry and the politicians that subsidize and profit from it take advantage of our distraction to rape and pillage even more egregiously our fragile planet. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention: Broaden your information horizons.
Meanwhile, the Say’s phoebes are back shoring up at least two nests around the house. A day after they first fluttered into the yard, I took last year’s nest off the top of the ladder leaning against the north wall, and lay it down so I could use it this summer if I needed to. The next day I felt so bad that I gathered scrap wood, tools, and screws to build a little shelf in the same spot where I could replace the nest. But once I stood there with all the materials I realized it would be way too complicated, so I propped up the ladder against a joist to provide corner stability, and tucked the old nest securely back into place. It’s one small thing I can do…
Thankful for the physical well-being and energy I’ve had this summer that has enabled me to keep up with the garden (though not with sharing its joy online!). Above, a selection of late-summer delights, starting with a plumtini, just a martini shaken with a very ripe plum, yum!
Thankful for half a dozen perfect strawberries gleaned from as many plants. Maybe next summer they’ll do better, but each fruit was certainly a burst of flavor as bright as its color.
The past months have been a whirlwind of harvesting, pickling, canning, freezing, cutting back, drying, fermenting and other fun fall festivities. I’ve been spinning through each day drenched in gratitude, swimming in astonishing colors, savoring and storing for winter the flavors of summer.
It’s almost impossible to believe I am the same person as that awkward little girl in the DC suburbs who spent every free minute curled up in an armchair reading books. How did I come to be here? Living close to the land in this fertile valley for almost half my life now has allowed me to approach some understanding of my true nature, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.
It was a long, slow, cold, dark winter. A few days of sunshine sprinkled amongst weeks, months of clouds, fog, and snow. Driveways in our neighborhood drifted more times this winter than in the full decade past’s winters. These photos are sequential, from Valentine’s Day through last week, showing just some of the excitement of this turning season. Some have days between them, others only hours.
When I first heard an interview about Marie Kondo on NPR, years ago, her very phrase “spark joy” sparked joy in me, then and there, as I drove along the highway. I remember exactly where on the road I was, just over that crest beyond Kwiki, where you can look down into the river, across the river, over the fields, to the mountains. There’s a pullout there. Just east of that pullout I heard the phrase spark joy for the first time.
Marie Kondo is a Shinto priestess. Those who deride her approach to things, (gentle, respectful, connected, grateful) are the product of separation from the natural world enforced by the military-industrialist culture that pervades the globe. Transportation, weapons, communication, myriad insidious tendrils of technology wrap around this living planet like so much tangled fishing net, choking the life from her, drowning her in her own effluent as she is pumped dry and belched into a finite bubble of atmosphere. Only the scum of the earth would make a career out of destroying the planet, and so the scum rises to the upper echelons of corporate domination.
But I digress. I felt the truth of Marie’s philosophy in my bones that day, and tingled inside my skin. It reflects the way I have always felt about things, from obviously animate things like Raggedy Ann and my stuffed animals, the orchids in my sunroom; to less obviously inspirited things like rocks, firewood, a brass pelican, appliances, toy plastic spiders, bubble wrap, even nail clippings. Growing up in this dominant “consumer” culture, I’ve had to unlearn the reverence for all things with which I was born. I resent being called a consumer. I consume as little as I can from this planet, and do my best to give back to it.
I have a lot of stuff because most of it came to me, and I attached to it, and couldn’t pass it on through my life. My ancestors, parents (grandparents, great-grandparents) spent time in the Far East, as they called it, Japan, China, the Philippines, from the early days of US colonization well into my generation of cousins. I was raised among oriental antiques and taught the value of good things. Other than that, though, we were a throwaway family like everyone else.
It’s taken a long time for me to even face, much less begin to unravel, the web of stuff that surrounds me. There are obviously enough people who suffer from their inability to organize stuff to make Marie Kondo a superstar. I’m one of them. Generations of things have reached a dead end in me. There is no one to inherit in my line. Generations of things, which I have because each piece speaks to me, holds an association, belongs to some story or person in my life. And/Or, because it’s functional, so why spend money on new materials? I’m a keeper.
But each thing connects to me with a cosmic invisible strand, enmeshes me in a culture of things as surely as the techno-web entangles the earth. Marie gives people like me hope. There is a way out, by cultivating discernment, and a better understanding of ourselves and our values, and learning some simple storage techniques. People embrace the KonMari method because it works.
It’s the age-old adage I was raised with, A place for everything, and everything in its place. It’s appreciating what you have, it is in fact, wanting what you have instead of getting what you want. Is this the fundamental objection some people have to the Konmari method? That they can’t continue to consume everything they want, if they even think about her approach? That they can’t stand to look inside themselves and feel and think about their belongings, and whether, maybe, they need to own so much stuff?
My friend Dawn has helped me with my stuff-culling struggle before, and was instrumental in helping me reduce my ancestral inheritance from one storage unit down to a quarter of a yurtful. Not long after I first heard about Marie, Dawn gave me her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. While I haven’t been able to commit to the process entirely, I have used its philosophy of respecting and thanking things that no longer serve, and its spark joy criterion to help me clear a bunch of stuff from my life. Every time I take a box or two to the thrift store I feel lighter. Every year I resolve to git‘er done once and for all. Maybe this year.
I am learning. For example, all my tea towels bring me joy, and when they age out of the kitchen, they go to work as animal wipes for wet coats, muddy feet, weed seeds. I enjoy every one of the cotton dishcloths I’ve knitted, and they last forever; when one finally gets too old it’s recycled into the tool box for a small work cloth, or into the rag bin for a scrubber. I finally have rag mentality: natural fiber clothing gets used long and hard for its initial purpose, and then it gets shredded into rags to use for cleaning, dusting, and eventually compost.
What Marie teaches is that if we value stuff more, we have less of it. It’s a lesson capitalist, consumer culture would do well to learn. It’s the lesson my friend Jerry knew forty years ago and I failed to grasp completely. I had more of that feeling living in an 8’x40’ trailer when I first landed here, with the bulk of my world outside that one long room, than I do now. More and more stuff accrued after the house was built, the bulky edifice in which I now dwell most of my waking hours instead of outside. Inside, surrounded by stuff, much of it inherited, which overwhelms me.
I’m grateful to Marie Kondo and her method, which is grounded in a deep sense of spirit. Maybe someday I’ll have time and energy to tackle everything all in one month, but meanwhile I’ll just keep on decluttering one drawer, one bookshelf, one file drawer, one windowsill at a time. And still, I’ll have a full house; but everything in it will spark joy. Then I’ll finally have peace of mind. Right?
I’ve mentioned some tips about feeding hummingbirds in previous posts, but I’m motivated today to just tell all. A friend asked me the other day, When should I take down my feeders? She asks me this every year. Every year, I tell her, About ten days after you’ve last seen a hummingbird.
Really? I thought you were supposed to take them down so they don’t miss their migration. Somehow this Myth resurfaces every fall instead of the answer I’ve given everyone who asks me for years. The birds won’t stick around late just because you have your feeders up: in fact, even after your summer population leaves, migrants passing through will benefit from your feeders staying up and clean.*
It’s not just the feeding schedule that matters when you commit to sustaining a hummingbird feeder through the season. Every summer, I inevitably encounter ill-kept feeders at the homes of people who should know better. Some of you have learned to keep your feeders clean, and some of you haven’t. Next time I have to say something, I’m naming names! And yes, I am scolding. I can’t help it, it’s in my nature. I’ve been subtle about this issue long enough.
Everybody means well when they put out feeders. Despite our best intentions, as frail and fallible humans, we don’t always follow through. Feeding hummingbirds isn’t something you do at your convenience, because it’s nice to have the pretty birds around. It’s a commitment: You commit to serving the welfare of the birds daily, because otherwise you contribute to their demise. There are so many ways to do it wrong, and the consequences are dire.
Caveat: exactly when to take down feeders is an art as well as a science; some people in the far north take them down at the first hard frost, or even earlier. This may be where the Myth originates. Places with year round hummingbirds obviously don’t need to stop feeding at all. I could send you straight to Audubon for all you need to know about feeding hummingbirds, but that would leave me nothing to say.
Here in the central latitudes of the continent, experience tells me to leave my feeder up for at least ten days after I’ve seen the last hummingbird, cleaning and refilling it as needed.* There is always a last hummingbird, sometimes after I’ve taken down the feeder, so I keep a jar of nectar in the fridge for a few weeks even when I think I’ve seen the last one, just in case of an exhausted straggler. I’ll make one cup, and if I don’t use it in a week I may make another cup. A small waste of sugar is worth a hummingbird’s life.
This time of year, I see mostly summer’s youngsters in my garden. They’re learning what’s good food and what’s not. They check out all the flowers, and don’t use the feeder nearly as much as their parents did earlier in summer. Many adults, especially males, are already moving south. These juveniles are exploring, gaining insight and wisdom, as they check out red honeysuckle berries and rose hips as well as salvia and snapdragons.Tending hummingbirds demands dedication. When you put out a feeder you initiate a real relationship with a particular population of little beings, the closest thing to fairies in our remaining wild world. Connie and John used to feed hundreds of hummingbirds of four species just a few miles south and a thousand feet higher than I live here. They were committed. They brewed gallons of fresh nectar a day, and their feeders never had a chance to get cloudy or moldy. The sound was amazing! They moved to Wisconsin.
NO RED DYE!
That shit shouldn’t even be legal to sell. Would you add an absolutely unnecessary red chemical to your every meal? No, you wouldn’t. Red food for hummingbird feeders is a sales scam, and hard on their tiny kidneys. Yes, they’re attracted to red, and that’s why feeders are usually red, but the food in them should be clear.
Once and for all, the best and cheapest nectar takes just a few minutes of your time. One (1) part refined white sugar to four (4) parts water. One to four, sugar/water, nothing else. You can put them both in the pan together, bring to boiling, and boil for a minute or two (no more!), or you can boil water in your kettle, pour it into the jar with the sugar, and shake the bejesus out of it until it settles clear, and you can’t see any sugar residue. The reason you heat the water is to increase its absorption of the sugar granules. There’s no need to cook it, as long as you make sure the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Then let it cool to room temperature before pouring into clean* feeders.
I hear that hummingbirds don’t like to drink cold nectar, so maybe when you have refrigerated nectar you want to change your feeders at night. When they come to feed in the morning, the nectar is ambient temperature. On super hot days, nectar can spoil quickly, so change it every day or two even if they haven’t finished it. In early spring or fall, if it’s going to freeze at night, bring feeders in for the night and put them back out early in the morning so the food is there, not frozen, when they wake up.
*ALWAYS CLEAN FEEDERS!
You don’t have to scrub them every time you fill them, but you do have to rinse thoroughly in hot water, and swish away any sticky residue with a bottle brush or your fingertips, depending on the design of the feeder. Audubon recommends no soap, as the residue can harm them. Clean your nectar storage jars the same way you clean the feeders, every time you empty them.
You do need to rinse and refill more often during hot weather than in cool weather. And if there’s any sign at all of cloudiness in the nectar, or debris, or black or grey on the feeder, you DO need to scrub with hot water or a light hot water-vinegar solution, and rinse really really well. By the time you see that black stuff on the feeder, you’re already killing birds. It’s that simple.
An adult hummingbird who acquires fungus from your feeder carries it home to her tiny babies in their nest. She could die from it and leave them to starve, or she could transmit it to them. Or both. So keep your feeders clean. Invest in a bottlebrush or two, and get a pack of these perfect little brushes for the ports. It doesn’t take long for nectar to spoil in hot weather, and it doesn’t take you long to keep the feeders clean if you have the right tools for the job. I use really hot water if I’m cleaning a glass feeder, and less hot if I’m cleaning a plastic vessel.
OH, AND… CATS
I got rid of the feeders I kept for seed-eaters the summer before I started letting my two new kittens outside. It isn’t fair to bait the birds in when I’ve got cats that can’t help trying to catch them. I compromised on hummingbird feeders, cutting my three down to one, and kept that one mainly to supplement the flowers, which don’t always bloom at the right times anymore, another consequence of climate chaos. Last week I found the first dead hummingbird ever at my front door, and I think it was the one I photographed the day before, struggling to fly and feed.
You almost never see a hummingbird sitting still to feed. This little one was crashing about in the flowers all morning, clinging to stems while trying to feed, and tangling in the potted plants, most unusual behavior. Was she too young? Or too weak, or injured, or what? Another hummingbird kept diving at her, and I first thought it was the usual mine!mine!-aggression they all display while protecting a food source or territory. But the struggling bird didn’t seem to mind the other one, and when I followed them into the honeysuckle (with binoculars) it looked as though the strong bird was trying to feed the weak one. Were they migrating together?
Everywhere she flew this other bird followed, at times flying up underneath her as though for support or encouragement. Something was very wrong. It looked like the little slow one had a tuft of feathers sticking out where there shouldn’t be one, as though she might have an injury. It’s possible that this bird was snagged by a cat claw, or perhaps hit a window, or was in some other way compromised. It was one of those heart-wrenching moments when you wish there was something you could do but you know there’s not. Though she was flying badly she was still too fast for me to catch. And if I had, what then? So I left her to her fate, which I suspect was to be brought to my doorstep the next day, intact though darkly damp from cat saliva. I feel bad about that. These are the complex paradoxes that keep us dancing on our ethical toes.
Every choice we make has consequences, some (or most) of which we never fully know. Know that if you choose to put out hummingbird feeders, there’s only one right way to do it: Keep the feeders sparkling clean all summer, and keep them up til all the migrants have flown through your area. With habitat fragmentation, compromised migratory routes, and climate chaos all throwing anthropogenic challenges at these energetic little jewels, the least we can do if we choose to feed them is to do it right, helping rather than harming them.