Snapdragons still blooming profusely are also providing late nectar for hummingbirds and bees, their colors and velvety texture keeping some hot spots in the garden’s yellowing autumn palette.
This Memorial Day Sunday, a week early if you ask me, has truly signaled the beginning of the roller coaster that is the summer season. Despite last night’s fresh snow on the mountains. We got half an inch of rain! It was great to wake up and not have to water anything; I had a pie to bake. After a kickoff brunch with Bloody Marys, arugula-ricotta-wild mushroom tart, veggie and homegrown-beef kebabs and venison ribs, fresh-picked wild asparagus, garden salad, and a homegrown-rhubarb pie with whipped cream, I returned home to my desk, and looked out the window to see a Bullock’s Oriole peering in at me. They winter in Central America and summer here; ergo, it must be summer! It’s a rare sighting, I’m lucky if I see one in a year. I hope he’ll stay around. I’ll buy an orange tomorrow, as incentive.
I’ve spent the past two weeks managing out-of-control weeds. Mustards, cheatgrass, and Poa bulbosa, my new nemesis, and many more, are rampaging through the yard sucking spring moisture from the ground, growing as fast as I can get them cut. But they tend to stay gone when they’re pulled by hand. Some zones in the garden get this special attention, while the farther edges of the yard get weed-whacked by Chris now and then. I have surrendered to the Bad Grass. All of it. I will never win. The bumper crop of Bulbosa this year finally made me throw in the towel. The best I can hope for, I’ve concluded, is to carve my paths through the bad grasses. Maybe a good approach to life in general. Live and learn. Never let someone else spread grass seed in your yard. Also, be careful of planting a perennial that someone tells you “can spread.”
“They love to look like each other,” said Katrina yesterday morning as she was pulling dwarf goldenrod shoots from among the Penstemon strictus shoots. I’m sure these two plants resemble each other even when they’re not mingled in the same bed, but the ones you want to get rid of seem to be able to look more like the ones you want to keep the more you try to get rid of them. Bindweed, for example. And these intransigent goldenrods: At the time I planted a one-gallon pot of this ornamental goldenrod I didn’t really understand the concept of “can spread.” Like many ornamentals they are just an attractive exotic invasive. I bought a grass the other day in a small pot, thinking it was a bunch grass. When I looked it up, sweet vernal grass, it turns out to be a problem weed in some parts of the country; it “can spread.” So that one will go in a pot for the summer and probably die next winter.
The past two weeks, days have either been cold and grey or been crazy with bees.
Unsettled weather. The days are a riot of ups and downs. Five days in a row of clouds and rain, then eighty degrees and shining sun for a week bake the ground. Carrots and beets emerged two days ago, and transplanted tomatoes and peppers hang on despite cold nights, while melons, zucchini, and more peppers and tomatoes in pots continue to come in at night. Arugula, parsley, lettuce and kale are popping up, and peas are two inches tall. I cling to the illusion of control in the wild ride of the summer garden. Soon the weeds will be tamed for the season, and before you know it harvest madness will be upon us. Let the party begin!
Today the wind literally blows bees off the Nanking cherry as another spring snowstorm threatens. Inside for awhile, I catch up with images from the past two weeks.
Count the bees and types of bees in this image. Spring wave of the roller-coaster is in full swing. On this day, the Colonel would have been ninety-five years old. I spent the entire day with one of his last gifts to me, my Canon 50D, in a pursuit he might have considered at one time in his life a waste of time; but he introduced me to cameras, and took great pleasure during our last visit looking through his album of special photos, seeking his personal best, a shot of a duck with water dripping off its beak. I think he would have liked these. Meanwhile, my days fly by so full I can’t keep up.
Yesterday’s smoke was so thick from neighbors clearing fields with fire that it kept me inside most of the day, even though it warmed up to 75. This morning it wasn’t so bad, just a singed aroma to the air. So warm last night, fortunately, that I didn’t light a fire in the woodstove for the first time all year. Fortunately, I say! This morning the cat leapt onto the wall by the stovepipe and the dogs jumped barking out of bed all at once. I didn’t understand why at first, then heard the desperate skritching inside the pipe: a bird had somehow fallen in.
I put the dogs out and left the door open. My woodstove has a peculiar double ceiling, which might have made it easier. I lifted the griddle out of the lid to see a pile of creosote ash on top of the false ceiling. I reached my hand up into the chimney and felt feathers, startling both me and the bird, who flapped and scratched in a panic, billowing clouds of ash out the hole. The second time, knowing better, I covered the hole with a dog towel, reached under and into the pipe swiftly, and grabbed a fistful of feathers and a leg, pulled the bird down and out into the towel, and took it outside, letting it flap under the towel to clean itself off a little. In a minute I let go, pulled away the towel, and watched a young starling flap frantically away, leaving a half dozen sooty feathers in my hand.
It’s been so dry and windy, despite occasional spring snow showers, that it’s time to start watering all around the yard, trees and beds. Time to sort the hoses and lay them out around the garden, make sure all connections are secure and won’t waste water with leaks.
So I spent a pleasant morning, grateful for the one that got away, chasing bees and butterflies through the spring garden, then drove to Eckert to the frame shop to drop off a new print for a show next month in Salida, and to pick up a couple of framed giant bees for the Grand Opening tomorrow night of the Church of Art in downtown Hotchkiss. Slowly gearing up the first rise of summer’s roller coaster.
A lot has happened in the garden in the past few weeks. Many days were cold and windy, overcast or outright snowing. Little popcorn snowballs blustering in with a dark cloud, pounding down and coating everything quickly, and melting in an hour. The bees kept largely to themselves on days like that. The past few days have really felt like spring, though; waves of purple mustard splash across the ‘dobies between Delta and Hotchkiss, along the roadside from Hotchkiss up to Crawford. Sandhill cranes have all but completed their migration through here, just a stray spiral or vee of them now and then. Snow covers the mountain tops; all the summer brown fields and ‘dobie hills are green, lush or barely brushed. Soon the surprise of some of those rare wildflowers that bloom only once a decade or two may pop up in swaths of white or blue.
Everything is full of promise, lifting my spirits with inordinate optimism. The river is muddy with snowmelt and the redtail hawk is sitting in her nest above the Smith Fork. Yesterday I watched her soar out of sight, circling slowly up and up, smaller with each revolution, a glint, a speck, a recollection. The bees, the bees are out around the grape hyacinths, blue and white; after snow two days ago the first little yellow tulips opened, their buds like almonds finally pushed up from underground and flowers spreading like the sun.
The years unroll, one season following another. Truer words were never sung. The golden currant is full of small bright green new leaves. All the columbines are up with their rounds of feathery foliage, daylily spikes are four to six inches tall. More Veronica blooms have opened, and Nepeta is taking over everywhere. Chicory keeps spreading its rosettes farther into the path. This garden gives me great delight. I broke back the Basin Wild Rye last evening and pulled a patch of bur buttercup, that precious nasty weed I took such care to spare the first year I saw it, decades ago. Some almond blossoms are already open up against the stucco house, the apricot’s about to burst; the first dandelion has bloomed and Nepeta is taking over everywhere.
I baked a halibut filet on top of some tender tarragon shoots the other night. Winter arugula is already sending up flower stalks in the covered garden, still feeding me several salads a week, and baby spinach will soon be ready to eat. Down at the pond a leopard frog emerged a few weeks ago. I’ve spooked it three or four times, and it spooked me when it splashed from the curly rush through the water, in one smooth arc, to bury itself in silt.
From the songs in each of our individual heads, our unique threads, our song lines, springs the meaning in our lives.
I, too, am always after the new. It gives me a thrill to capture an angle on a bee that I haven’t caught before, to see a new species of fly or wasp on a flower. I, too, am always after the new: I simply choose my new to be tamer, less risky, than many people do. Not for me a new black diamond ski slope or a slackrope across a canyon, not for me an undersea dive for treasure. Just, for me, a new bee.
Autumn came on August first. It’s not been summer since. Monsoonal flow brought rains and cooler nights. Summer seems to have evaporated. The yard has become a jungle, ten foot tall sunflowers I’ve had to limb up to allow light to the vegetables. Grasshoppers demolish potato plants. I’ve hardly had to water in the past week. Rocky mountain beeplant, or beeweed as the ranger calls it, looked scrawny, unpromising earlier, is now thick and blooming, claiming the attention of the bees and hummingbirds.
I stumble into evening, into this playground of beauty. It is dusk and the garden is still buzzing and fluttering with pollinators. I feel great. I’ve reclaimed two major areas of weeds, and tamed the pathways between them. I worked inside in the heat of day, went out to a client in town, drove home and saw again the smoke from the roaring fires to the southeast. Yesterday, too, in the afternoon, under thick cloud cover, as I drove home I saw sandwiched between the low, grey sky and the dark ridge of horizon, a different, dark, curly billow, the roiling plume of this monstrous blaze. Today, the big fire more of an ominous smudge, and a smaller plume a little farther west. This beauty feels precarious.
A Saturday. A morning rounds day. The dogs agitate restlessly, subtly, for a W-A-L-K. But I can’t go yet. I must spend this morning among the wildly blooming flowers of such variety, and the infinite shades of green in the lush growing leaves. Winecups, Callirhoe, with pink salvia; palmer penstemon at its best. Time to pick up all the buckets, pails, bales, bags and hoses strewn about, and make this garden the showplace that it is.
Cloud cover rolls in as I’m photographing flowers with bugs and bees, sun in, sun out, the wind stirs and calms. Camera is best set aside. I have another day of roses, of pink penstemons; yellow and orange columbines, creamy panicles on the golden elder, aromatic lilac twigs of Larry’s eyebrow, purple penstemons will last at least a few more days. Gallardia, salvias pink and purple will last a long time. The roses will be gone overnight when they go, replaced by swelling green hips then ripe red ones. A bumblebee lands on a wild rose blossom… I cannot resist despite the fickle light, and move to the rosebush camera in hand.
Still and overcast, excellent for the firefighters throughout the state, and the west. Last night smoke from a new fire on the western slope, just north of I-70, layered the northwest sky purple and pink as the sun set. Today, after a calm morning with clouds intermittently obscuring the sun, the winds have picked up and thick grey clouds are trying to spit rain. One brutal long gust and one rolling thunder lay all my peace of mind to rest.