Monday, June 30, 2008

FIELD NOTES: I removed the nest, reluctantly and somewhat remorsefully...

The last day of June, 2008

...because this was not the first time the nature of birds has come into question around my house. Last year, I was teaching in a first grade classroom where it is traditional that birds are studied every spring. With little effort, you can fascinate this age group with eggs, nests and especially hatching, so it was with great enthusiasm that each day I told a little story about the progress of my robin’s nest with three….no five!... pale blue eggs. At first I hoped that the eggs would hatch before the end of the school year, but when joy turned to tragedy I hoped their short attention spans would spare me from inquiries or else…..I would have to lie. The nest had been situated in a hanging fern plant on my deck just outside the kitchen window above the sink where I could easily keep up with the comings and goings of the young mother. One day, she did not come with strings of worms draped from her beak and the fuzzy peeping heads with giant gaping mouths stopped popping up. Should I investigate? My plant had not been watered except by random rain. I stepped up on the wicker and wrought-iron bistro chair to take a peek. An apparently un-hatched egg had been vandalized, shell remains of the hatchlings were still strewn about the nest and it smelled of death. Tiny shriveled corpses, their oversized heads and eyeballs dangling, met my eyes. Exposed to attack, set up for abandonment, it had been a poorly situated home. Rather than disposing of the whole plant, pot and all, I extracted the nesting material from the fern like shredded wheat from long hair, buried it, hosed down the hanging plant and left it to recuperate in a corner of the patio. So this year – same plant, same place – different bird (a wren I think, judging by the domed stick nest with a side entrance). My back door is too busy; the poor bird would be kept in constant flicker and me in constant startle – too stressful! I tried to keep the nest intact and set the bundle on the child-sized Time Out bench that I use as a garden decoration and anchor for my mosaic frog and potted parsley. And there it sits – a reminder of our choices.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

FIELD NOTES: If I repeat myself, it must be good.

June 29, 2008

Coming upon a complete yearly cycle of making notes, I’m not planning on looking back to see exactly what I made note of. I don’t think I see things the same way twice anyway. I plant my favorite flowers and vegetables, but not always the same way and I often experiment with new varieties. The bugs and critters visit, the weather delights and tortures, but not always with same modus operandi. So if I repeat myself, I figure it must be something really noteworthy, something worthwhile. After all, to notice something more than once, to marvel at something all over again, is not mundane or demented, but like the delight of seasons and the youthful expectation I always want to remember.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

FIELD NOTES: So, all of a sudden, a daddy longlegs is crawling across my dashboard.

June 25th, 2008

I am a little late for work and taking Jerusalem Hill to try to avoid the traffic and road construction on Route 7. Kind of absurd that an old farm road (read: roller coaster) with hairpin turns designed for tractors at the turn of the last century is the quickest alternative route, but that’s New Milford. Although I am not particularly afraid of spiders, they do always seem to give me a little start and this one is quickly ambulating my way. I lecture my kids on multi-tasking while driving, but here I am trying to fish a tissue out of my pants pocket, keep an eye on the path of the spider and, of course, keep the other eye on the twisty road! I have the capacity to kill…or I could roll down my window and demonstrate my stewardship of nature. I might also be explaining how I went off the road and missed work altogether: “So, all of a sudden, a daddy longlegs is crawling across my dashboard….” Choose your own adventure.

Monday, June 23, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Speaking of backyard murder-mysteries...

June 23, 2008

...I buried my third squirrel this morning after nearly running over the corpse with the lawn mower. The neighbors must wonder what I keep yelping about because I just can’t help reacting loudly when discovering some sort of crime or violation. Not two weeks ago, I saw something white in the lengthening backyard grass. I wondered what it was; maybe a bag blown into our yard? Upon inspection, my son and daughter inside the house heard my yelping: AAAKH! Oh oh oh oh oh! AAAKH! The white was the underside of a squirrel belly-up on the lawn. My eyes trailed up the ancient oak trees where a labyrinth of dead and dying branches exists and I thought perhaps, like the first squirrel I think I wrote about some time ago, he had fallen from the weak canopy. So today, shovel in hand again, I went to dig a hole at the back of the lawn where brush and leaves are left to mulch naturally and discovered the grave of squirrel number two had been breached. Ah, the animal world, driven by a combination of self-preservation, compulsion, survival and instinct rather than morals. And yet, not always so very different from our own as my active mind raises its inner eyebrow…did these squirrels fall…or were they pushed??

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

FIELD NOTES: It's a great position to lie in because...

from a hammock you get a new perspective on your own backyard. There is intrigue, detail, small stuff that is important (to the small) and even the murder-mystery. There is a particular cat – a white one with a black fur cape thrown over his head and back - that frequents my yard, stalking my beloved birds but earning redemption by rounding up the rodents. I think it his cache that I have uncovered under the shed. An old picnic table I use as an outdoor potting bench sits atop a set of wooden pallets where I store odd containers along with seasonal bags of soil and peat. A loose board and the hole underneath bequeathed a lip-curling collection of bones, furry pieces of tails and a shriveled up bird carcass. I know there is an underground system of tunnels from sometimes having the lawn sink beneath my feet and I have seen Mr. Blackcape watching the entrances and exits. I’m lying crosswise in the hammock and spy two pointy ears periscope up, then quickly down, behind the wood pile. I imitate a friendly purr to draw Mr. Blackcape out. Maybe we could be friends? But he interprets my overture as artificial and reacts in either mistrust or condescension. I accept his rejection as a condition of nature and like a lion in the wilderness, we will live parallel lives, respecting an invisible, silent boundary and considering each other’s actions with a pinch of suspicion. I have to do something about not getting enough hammock time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Just a week ago, I wrote about planting a 'memorial garden'...

June 1, 2008

...and it is in more ways than one, not just as my Memorial Day ritual, but as a memory of many things - of earth, of my maternal grandmother and even of me. I have a habit of gardening in flip-flops. I do end up destroying them which is why I sigh to myself when I’ve forgotten to slip out of my good flip-flops and into the two dollar ones from the drug store. I don’t do it on purpose, I run out just to do water maintenance and, before I know it, I’m pulling a weed which turns into a hundred weeds. My nails fill with dirt and dinner is delayed, but no matter, it’s summer and dinner can be eaten at eight without much consequence. And that is the memorial to my grandmother who, in the days before jellies and crocs, fashioned her own backyard footwear out of flip-flop bottoms and ruffled elastic lace from the five and dime store because she did NOT like a thong between her toes. She trimmed her toenails with a pocket knife that fascinated and startled me at the same time and her size six shoes were just right for little girls to play dress-up with. I remember her feet brown with soil from walking around her make-shift gardens – the sunny strip behind the garage where green beans crawled and horseradish, rhubard and sour grass for schav (Polish sorrel soup) squatted wherever they could and at the end of the hedgerow atop the steep bank were tomato plants or little cukes in old metal tubs. By memory or design, I pretty much grow the same stuff. And my feet sink into the soft fertile earth, my toenails fill up with garden dirt and I swing my feet, one at a time, into the bathroom sink to scrub them. It would be easier to wear sneakers or garden boots, but it wouldn’t feel nearly as good, it wouldn’t have that glorious connection to ancestors, to earth…to me. It happens to be my fiftieth birthday…and it feels good.