Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Down Side of Summer

The days are growing shorter. I don’t want to admit it, but I have to. It’s 8:29 and nearly dark. A month ago I’d still be able to work outside. Of course, the up side of the changes in the season are the slightly cooler temperatures, which means I can spend more of the remaining daylight hours outdoors doing something productive. It’s a toss up – a trade of one opportunity for another. The trick is to take advantage of whatever opportunity presents itself and get the job done.

Since I became a homeowner, I’ve started collecting a plethora of tools for both indoors and out, including some pretty nifty power tools – a bit intimidating at first, but they do the work with speed and efficiency. I love my cordless, electric weed whacker almost as much as my old-fashioned, foot-powered reel lawn mower. Shovels and grass clippers, spades and trowels – the list of my acquisitions goes on and on.

The one tool that I most often forget to bring with me when I venture outdoors is arguably the one I miss most when I don’t have it. From nearly the beginning, I’ve been documenting the changes in the yard (not always to be classified as “progress”) with my trusty digital camera. Long after the flowers have faded and the grass is covered by winter snows, I’ll be able to remember and share my gardening adventures. It’s also proven an invaluable way to remind myself of how much I’ve accomplished on those days when all I can see is what’s left to be done.

Much to my chagrin, I don’t always bring it with me and, more times than I care to count, I’ve wished I had. Just yesterday I was admiring the cluster of three bee balm varieties near my bird feeders. A quick motion caught my eye. At first I thought a small hummingbird was flitting among the flower heads just a hand’s reach away. I looked more closely and realized it wasn’t a hummingbird at all, but a moth whose green body and rapidly fluttering wings mimicked a hummingbird to perfection. If I’d had the camera with me, I’d have a picture to post with my blog entry. Alas, the hummingbird moth (Common Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe) is an opportunity lost. Maybe it will return another day when I’m close by, camera in hand. I hope so.

I’ve discovered that more often than not, the garden is forgiving of my human failings, whether its forgetfulness or neglect. The garden wants to grow, visitors come and go, and I’m here to do my part.

Friday, August 3, 2007

When It Rains . . . It Hails

I absolutely love a good thunder storm. It’s not your kinder, gentler Mother Nature, the one I see in my garden every day. There’s not a gentle breeze, singing bird or buzzing bee in this scenario. Nope, this is brute strength, Gaia unbound.

After days of record heat and unbearable humidity that forced me indoors and cancelled any attempt at working in the sun-drenched garden, the gathering haze on Friday morning came as a welcome relief. As the temperature dropped during the late afternoon, I dared to venture outside for a go at the unruly weeds and lawn. The day drew to a close, and gathering clouds swallowed what was left of the sun. A quick current of air ran through the tree tops, descending to ground level to play with abandoned pots and empty mulch bags.
The first large drops of rain caught me on my knees spreading mulch. I glanced at the sky, recognized the storm drawing in a deep breath, preparing to exhale. I smiled, stood, wiped my hands, gathered tools and headed indoors. By the time the mower was stored away, the drops had become more insistent, beating down on the patio’s corrugated roof. And then the sky let loose. Torrents of rain beat against the house with machine gun rhythm. The sound grew deafening and, I realized, it wasn’t just rain. Hail pelted the house, the ground, every leaf and blossom all around, bouncing like miniature ping pong balls in all directions. Wind whipped through the trees; lightning and thunder sparked overhead. The lights inside blinked, flashed and failed.

Out came the emergency flashlights and candles, just in case the power outage stretched on into the night. Once the rain subsided, I ventured into the yard as night began to settle in. The storm had left behind crisp, clean air and the sound of the trees sloughing off the remnants of the storm. Around me, it looked for all the world as though someone had strewn mothballs across the grass and the mulch-covered beds.

I shared Gaia’s joke, gathering a sampling of the frozen spheres in my hand, laughing as they melted between my fingers. A taste of winter in August. But why not? At one point this past January, there wasn’t a snowflake in sight and I spent a day in the yard mulching beds I’d neglected when the weather turned cold last fall. The temperatures dropped and the winter snow returned soon after, just as the remains of Friday’s hail storm disappeared long before morning arrived. But it was fun and quirky – a garden rarity gone in the blink of an eye.