Old painting, new life. I’m grateful my brother painted this fifty years ago, that I wouldn’t let it go when the old house sold; that I kept it rolled up in storage for decades, and unfurled it a couple of years ago thinking: better it hang somewhere, even outside, than spend the rest of its life in a tube and get thrown away whenever I die. It survived two years ignominiously screwed to the wall a little askew, but today it finally got framed and hung straight. I’m grateful to Wilson and his little helper for crafting the beautiful slab wood frame. Grateful for the mill down the road that sells its scraps so reasonably. Grateful I have a wall to hang it on. Now, looks like it’s time to finish the wall with a coat of smooth plaster: I’m grateful for how one thing leads to another, and we grow.
Looking back over that half century, I’m grateful that the oasis of wild joy and color in this vision from my childhood has come to vibrant life here at Mirador.
I’m grateful today that Stellar had strength and stamina to walk all the way to the canyon this morning; that he has survived to see the cottonwoods leaf out again; that even though he’s lame and deaf and got cataracts, his sniffer still works great; and that he had such a good day we could take another walk this evening.
I’m grateful for a couple of quick cool showers, the first after I worked all morning in the yarden in brutal heat, and the second at the end of the day; I’m grateful I set up my shower so that the water flows directly out to the base of the birch tree and from there along a row of chokecherry and mountain ash, so I can shower without guilt even during drought; indeed, if I were to curtail showers I’d threaten the health of the ecosystem. I’m grateful for the water itself that flows from the high mountains, for the infrastructure to channel and hold and transport it and for the people through the years who made this possible.
I’m grateful the clouds moved in late afternoon and cooled off the yard and house, even though there was no rain; grateful that tomorrow’s high is forecast to be a temperate 90º instead of today’s 98º in the shade. Grateful also, of course, for nutritious food, including morning glory muffins that Garden Buddy brought the other day, and for cardamom cake that Deb couldn’t eat, for lettuce and peas from the garden, avocados and mushrooms from the store, and for a cheese sandwich at lunch, among other gustatory delights. And I’m grateful for other simple delights as well, such as Doe’s reactions to Biko, who stalked her a bit like he stalks the dog, and made her jump and leap a couple of times, which made me laugh when I recovered from being startled. I just love watching the expressions of the deer as they watch me and my pets move through our mutual yard.
I’m also grateful tonight that I noticed the dog food still cooking on the stove an hour after I meant to turn it off, that I didn’t go to bed with it still cooking, and that remarkably it wasn’t burnt. Through a particular lens, there is always something to be grateful for in any situation: it could always be worse.
Essentially the same shot, same angle and distance, 24 hours apart, of an Icelandic poppy in a patio pot.
After the snow, everything rebounded remarkably. The pink honeysuckle whose limbs had been bent to the ground stood tall and fleshed out with plenty more blossoms, and was full of bees for weeks. A few iris flowers froze but no one stalk completely died, and they continue to bud and bloom their last few, three weeks later.
The Siberian honeysuckle vine began to open as the pink honeysuckle tree slowed, and bumblebees of all kinds are all over it.
For a week or two the chives were where it’s at.
Columbine blooms madly in various warm shades, attractive to this digger bee and many others.
Western tiger swallowtails are coming to the potted salvias, as well as many other blooms.
It’s interesting to notice how tense my life becomes without reliable water. For a week the switch on the pressure tank has been failing, and the plumber has been swamped with the more urgent task of repairing a broken water main that supplies a whole neighborhood. I could have found someone else, but I just found him, and I like him, and he’s good. So we waited. When the tank drained and the pump didn’t kick on, I went out and jiggled the switch. As each day passed, the switch failed more frequently, until each time the tank drained I had to jiggle the switch.
It’s a good thing I meditate. We cut back our use of water to necessity, and all the garden got thirsty, but the seedlings and transplants remained a priority, as well as drinking water for people and pets, water for face and hand washing, and of course ice cubes, for cocktails. We were never in dire straits. We were in anxious straits. And that anxiety, despite being modulated by daily meditation, strained my equanimity. I felt tight, and less than whole, simply because the water could at any moment quit altogether. And I realized how thoroughly the structure of my day depends on reliable, constant water. How lucky we are!
He came this morning and replaced the switch. I feel I can breathe freely again. And so I am back to spending hours a day moving hoses and sprinklers, hearing that darn pump grind comfortingly at regular intervals. Within two weeks of having a four-inch snow with one-inch water content, we are enjoying 90 degree days and the garden is in full bloom. We are all thirsty all the time. And now, for awhile, we have peace of mind. And showers.
I can’t comprehend how fast time has flown the past six weeks. Weeks as fast as days, days like minutes. There are so many ways to measure time. When I was in my thirties I eschewed clocks. In my forties I wore a watch, feeling a need to be reminded that time was passing. I gave up the watch in favor of a white plastic round clock I bought at a yard sale for fifty cents, which I could hear ticking throughout the whole house. Some years ago I was suddenly fed up with the ticking clock, and gave it back to another yard sale. Now I have a tiny computer in my pocket or my purse nearly all the time that I can check any time, and there’s no ticking clicking away the seconds of my life. And still, time careers recklessly forward and I cannot get it to slow down. Especially in the garden.
I’ve been measuring time the past few weeks in irises. Through the (speeding) years I’ve planted a number of them that various people have given me. It always takes a couple of years for a new batch of rhizomes to bloom, and until last year they hadn’t done particularly well in my yard. I figured out that, like so many drought tolerant plants, they do much better when they get plenty of water. Don’t let anyone tell you that irises don’t need much water. They don’t ~ unless you want them to bloom. This year the May garden exploded with colors, including two I’d not seen before. A little dwarf brown iris that my dear neighbor gave me opened first, and I didn’t get a picture and I thought there’d be more time. It was just that one bloom, but the first after two years in the ground. Then they started bursting open with color and fragrance everywhere, and blowing my mind. First one color would open a few blooms, then another. I can’t remember where each variety came from, and wish I’d written them down.
The Japanese iris below came from a friend who shared her garden with neighbors before she moved away. Their cluster gets bigger and bolder every year, and the digger bees are crazy about the streamlined flowers. The center died away a few years ago and a columbine filled it in.
Some of the other bearded irises, the white white and the frilly purple below, and maybe a couple of others, came from a wonderful woman who was in her nineties and had a legendary iris garden before she died. As each color opened with its unique scent I made the rounds daily, sniffing, watching for bees, taking pictures.
The last to open tantalized as its buds elongated and swelled, suggesting a color I’ve never seen in an iris. (But that’s not saying much; I simply didn’t pay them that much attention until this year.) I don’t remember when I planted them, at least two years ago, or who gave them to me. Everyone who has seen them cannot get over the color, which can only be called peach.
Measuring time in irises. From now on, I’ll keep a record of whom and where each new variety comes from, because now I’m hooked. There are some bright yellow irises up the road I’ve got my eye on!
Today the garden is full of yellows, oranges and greens, and full of buzzing bees. Summer is a full on ride, roller coaster or tilt-a-whirl, it’s hard to know; reeling through colors and days so full.
July arrivals in the garden, the variously colored Ratibida, or Mexican Hats, and an unusual, fast bee that flies with its tip up.
At first I blamed the damn deer for demolishing one of my Roma tomatoes, until I looked closer. Love the little manatee hands.
Why do you think they call it Hornworm?
Little solitary bees work the tomato blossoms diligently.
And at last, overnight, one of the Early Girls begins to ripen.
The new raised bed in the south yard grows squashes from Earth Friendly Farm.
I transplanted them into walls-o-water, then implemented a trick I learned at a dinner party recently: keep the walls on longer than you’d think you need to, and turn them down into collars, to hold water better and protect the plants from wind.
All the squashes are thriving.
One of three visiting catahoulas, Jupiter, Last Son of Sundog, romps with Raven’s birthday bunny, still remarkably intact six weeks later.
I could not figure out what these tiny green beads were that the ants were so busy around, scattered in clusters along the path through the woods. Husks of tiny beetles! What’s up with that?
Bumblebee leaving a pink penstemon, probably a hybrid between P. palmeri and P. pseudospectabilis. Both species thrive and self-sow all over the garden and now there’s a whole range of pinks between the pale, almost-white palmeri and the vibrant pseudospectabilis.
Honeybee face-deep in Gallardia.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, hosting company and working on a deadline. The roller-coaster is moving so fast that I have to look at my pictures to remind myself that I am spending time in the garden. These are the image picks of the day and I can hardly wait for time on the weekend to sort through recent weeks of bees. Bees in the garden, bees in the mountains. A whirlwind of planting, seeds and seedlings; small green tomatoes on the Early Girls, tiny peppers on jalapeños and sweets. The yard has burst into impossible bloom; impossibly beautiful and impossible to catalog in haste. Patiently taking pictures every few days, gathering images like the bees gather pollen, for subsistence through the darker days. Solstice tomorrow marks the peak of the long spring climb; summer freefall follows.
Yup, it’s officially out of control now. The pink honeysuckle is in full bloom, and the yellow Siberian honeysuckle is coming on. The first week of June: all the May wildflowers are still blooming, some of them started in April; the garden unveils new blossoms each day. I can’t keep up. It’s a full-time job to keep the weeds at bay; and all I want to do is shoot bees on blossoms.
Tomorrow I pick up friends at the airport for a week’s visit. The work is finished for a short while and full-scale enjoyment of the garden begins the moment we arrive home. In the mountains the wild irises are blooming, and in the yard the tame ones have never been so splendid.
Bloody Mary with a lovage straw. This huge tropical-looking herb grows well in wet soil north of the pond, and its aromatic stalks are hollow, the perfect garnish.
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.
Nepeta everywhere is covered with bees of all kinds.
At least five kinds of bumblebees are feeding in the garden. When I get time, when the roller coaster slows a bit, I’ll sit down with my bumblebee images and the Western Bumblebee Guide and find all their names.
The sphinx moth is also attracted to Nepeta, and sometimes out in the morning.
The Little Red Bumblebee, I call it…
May 9, the bee tree was briefly the crabapple down by the pond.
Honeybee on Fuji.
May 17, these caterpillars are crawling the walls all over Crawford. Covering the walkways, on every living thing, looking for a place to pupate. We hope they are innocuous salt-marsh caterpillars and will turn into benign white moths. We’ll know more later!
Even Marrubium, the silver-leaf horehound, is covered with tiny flowers and intermittent bees.
I let the dandelions grow on the fringes of the garden beds, on the edges of paths. They’re an important early source for all the species of bees.
I’ve only seen a hummingbird once at this scarlet gilia that sprang up in the spring border. I sometimes sit nearby and wait with the camera. One of these days…
Little mat daisies spread readily, beautiful and benign. I don’t mind.
Their little white petals have pink candy-stripes on their undersides, making little red buds.
This little red fly also enjoys the mat daisies.
The first big iris opened a week ago. Two days ago this one popped and the little red bumblebees love it.
Friday night’s rain.
The bee tree yesterday was the Amur maple, which came as a surprise…
I expected it would be the lilac, but it took me three days to get three good shots of bees on the lilacs, and three minutes to get three good shots of bees on the maple.
The first blue flax opened just a week ago, and now waves of this delicate flower flow through the garden feeding bees big and small.
Mixed in with the flax and also in waves here and there through the garden, I let the native plains mustard grow where it will.
Pink chintz creeping thyme flowers between flagstones.
All the bumblebees are all over the Ajuga blooms.
This giant yellow bumblebee is twice the size of the little red one. Probably Bombus nevadensis, or morrisoni, but I’ll have to study on that, compare things like tongue length and facial structure, count colored bands, all with the guide and images before me. Maybe I’ll print it and take it outside with the Papilio binoculars.
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!
Honeybee sipping raindrops, I think, from a hanging basket; that, or the fading flower is dripping nectar.
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.
Not only are there more than a dozen bumblebee species that live around here, turns out there are some flies that are extraordinary bee mimics. Who knows which this is? I guess if I do ever go back to school it will have to be in entomology.
Another bumblebee, I think Bombus huntii.
What I once thought were shiny black bees, before I looked at them through my magic lens, turn out to be probably a species of Tachinid fly, perhaps Voria ruralis.
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.
And finally another honeybee, who can’t keep her tongue in her mouth while flying.
You just never know what a day will bring, what joys and delights, what trials and fears. My friend has returned to the hospital with complications following West Nile virus. My aunt has had a second surgery for a fracture following her partial hip replacement. Both of them the dearest, kindest people one could know; neither deserving such suffering. I am doing what little I can do from here for both; and, I am doing my best to enjoy this gorgeous day. My “basic flaw” may be my tendency to believe I am never doing enough.
At last the rains came. Last week, almost half an inch over the course of five days, this week half an inch in one 36-hour period, and a few days later, two-tenths in an hour, most of which fell in an eight-minute hail storm that left squash leaves in tatters. But the fear of fire is diminished, and the need to run water on the garden as well.
In the throes of summer’s runaway roller coaster I have been neglecting morning rounds; company, a several day water crisis, a family catastrophe, and the sheer demands of the garden have all conspired to distract me from sharing the wild beauty of Mirador’s blooming yard. For today, a brief synopsis, and hopes that I will do better from now on.
The potted agave that shot up its stalk last summer has finally bloomed, and this too took much of my attention for the past month. How sedately it opened, one cluster at a time. I expected some special moth, or fly, some nighttime pollinator to visit, and was surprised at who came to dominate. Hummingbirds! All three species here have been striving to feed from its dripping nectar but of course the little bulldog rufous birds have held sway.
In the early days of the flowers’ opening the rufous hummingbirds began to guard the stalk, fighting amongst themselves and chasing off the black-chinneds and the broadtails.
As the inflorescences opened more they continued to maintain control.
Echinacea opened and bumblebees came.
Leeks flowered and all manner of bees came.
Mullein shot up its neverending flower stalk and honeybees came.
And the hundreds of images I’ve captured in the past month I’ve barely begun to sort; my dear neighbors provided me with an insect field guide that I haven’t had time to study; work deadlines loom large. My dearest auntie lies recovering from a broken hip; I cried myself to sleep last night in fear for her recovery, and awoke this morning way too early to the morning star rising over the West Elk Mountains. But the day dawned crisp and clear, July’s parting gift, and I’m optimistic about everything… for now. The fernbush has opened its candelabra blossoms and welcomes a host of buzzing insects, some too fast and tiny to capture. There is always some lovely distraction outside when I am sad.