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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Thursday, December 31, 2015


2015, perhaps more than most, has been a year of highs and lows: the joy of moving back to a favorite neighborhood in a favorite town; the shocking destruction of my former pollinator garden; the beginning of a new garden (and the process of restoring an old one); a granddaughter's high school graduation; family health challenges; a reunion with dear friends on a dream trip to Bulgaria and Ireland; the deaths of other friends; and always, it seems, a shortage of time. 

Bulgaria always makes me aware of time. This part of southeastern Europe was home to the earliest European civilization, a prosperous society that seems to have enjoyed perhaps 1500 years of peace before the invasion of the people who eventually became the Greeks and Thracians. In July, I was lucky enough to visit Durankulak Lake, a major wildlife area with an island that was inhabited by humans for roughly 6000 years, from 5000 BCE or thereabouts to the end of the First Bulgarian Empire, around 1000 CE. We walked streets that were laid out some 6500 years ago

and imagined the lives lived in the houses that once stood on these foundations.

I couldn't help wondering if some long-ago urbanite had planted just such a tree to shade this dwelling from the baking Bulgarian sun.

Not that Bulgaria existed yet. The Bulgurs would not show up for another few thousand years. Archaeologists are not even sure what language these people spoke, their script being still undeciphered.

Nothing like a little deep time to calm any jitters about one's own topsy-turvy existence.

Sunrises also help.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mortal Combat

Home from a whirlwind trip to Florida, dreading the cold, only to find temperatures in the sixties. A break in the rain allowed some time in the ongoing reclamation project known as the sunken garden, a once-beautiful space overtaken by English ivy, porcelain vine, and yellow flag iris. I only had a couple of free hours but am pleased to report the filling of multiple 33-gallon lawn and leaf bags.

But--the enemy is not defeated. Today's labor cleared only a tiny triangular patch, perhaps ten feet across the longest side of the triangle. One massive ivy had roots going down more than a foot, the removal of which necessitated removing a rose bush, one that had failed to thrive during its twenty years in that spot. In some places, the ivy roots were so congested that getting a shovel or pitchfork into the ground was nearly impossible, so I spent quite a bit of time scrabbling in cold dirt and yanking, following some shallow roots for several yards as they finally abandoned the soil.

Another thug taken out of commission was an oriental sweet autumn clematis, the kind that goes everywhere, choking out everything in its path but English ivy. The roots of the plant look like a particularly terrifying space alien, multitudes of thick, floppy tentacles emanating from a central glob. My love for its frothy flowers and intoxicating scent did not save it (though I suspect that the soil harbors enough of at least one tentacle for the plant to regenerate).

The rose of sharon privacy hedge is nearly as enthusiastic as its companions. At least a dozen seedlings joined the ivy roots, grabby vine, and sickly shrub in the to-be-sent-to-the-compost-farm bags. A few hundred more are waiting.

The War of the Alien Invaders is likely to be a long one.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Not a good day to be a fish (or a jellyfish)

Last night brought high winds and waves to Indialantic, where we are spending a few days visiting relatives. This gorgeous morning

found quite a few black vultures circling the beach, which was littered with dead fish. A lot of dead fish.

It came as no surprise that a beach full of dead fish attracted a beach full of birds--gulls, terns, and various skittering avians. (Of course, my bird books were all in Ohio.)

I particularly liked this handsome fellow,

although the gulls, as usual, provided much of the amusement. With perhaps thousands of dead fish available for breakfast, several birds of course all wanted the same one. Then this one, perhaps confused by the buffet, had difficulty reaching a decision.

That looks like a good dead fish. 

 I'll try it.  

Wait! That one looks better.

Well, maybe not.

What none of the birds were sampling was the Portuguese man-o-war that had washed up on the beach. This gorgeously-colored jellyfish (okay, it's not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, a combination of four "things" that function as a single animal, but we called them jellyfish back in the day) is extremely venomous.

This particular invertebrate was still alive when discovered, but yours truly was not brave enough to try to get it back into the water. A few moments later, it (they?) rolled over, gave a few feeble tentacle waves, and (most likely) died.

The beach is a rough ecosystem.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Deep breath

Despite my belief that we had sold Chipmunk Ridge to people who would be good neighbors to our former good neighbors, we were wrong.  The primary buyer (the retired head of a charitable organization and friendly with a dear colleague) and her husband (recently retired from the same company that three of our neighbors worked for and described as a Master Gardener) came with what seemed like good references. The buyer stated that they had been looking for a smaller house in town and that her husband loved to garden. Perfect.

No. They were looking for a smaller house in town to gut, add on to, and flip. All of the pollinator gardens were removed. Every. Single. One. A single crabapple remains. Everything else is turfgrass. No physocarpus hedge where baby doves can hide, no daisy meadow, no butterfly garden along the driveway. Not a single flower for a hummingbird to visit. The good news is that Master Gardeners were brought in to remove and rehome a good many plants, but even though I had been assured that anything not wanted would pass to the college pollinator habitat, we were never called. Because I am not a nice person, I have sincerely wished these buyers an eternity in one of the more unpleasant levels of Dante's Inferno and the complete loss of their not inconsiderable investment in the property. Financial ruin would be fair, wouldn't it?

Several mornings found me waking to a pounding heart and the fear that I will never be able to undo the damage caused by my wanting to leave West Virginia. Thousands of creatures displaced, the small pollinators most likely dead in landfills or fated to starve when they emerge in the spring to no food. No place for a mama monarch to lay her eggs. No chipmunks.

But at the lowest point of my despair, it was time to gather seeds for an Earth Day project. Our tiny lawn strip garden produced a bounty,

less of a variety than the old place held, but enough for student volunteers to create at least a hundred pollinator garden seed packets to distribute at a campus event in the spring. Several kinds of asters, echinacea, rudbeckia, agastache, butterfly weed, "Fireworks" goldenrod, and liatris will find their way to new homes and in the process create new homes for small creatures, who seem to find their way to anyplace we humans manage to leave for them.

And I made a discovery: liatris seedheads are gorgeous in their own subtle way.