This past weekend my siblings and I got together to take my mother to a concert that featured the world-renowned "Mariachi Vargas." During the day, while we waited for my brother to arrive, the sisters drove Mom around the countryside to look at the wildflowers that were blooming.
Texas + spring + rain = wildflowers.
One of my favorites, Prairie Verbena:
A funky, confused, but pretty wildflower, Rayless Gaillardia:
Pearl and Henrietta are worn out from last night's long neighborhood association meeting and have announced to me that they are taking some time off until they recover their wits. Given the size of a chicken's brain, one might think this wouldn't take long, but P&H operate on their own schedule...
In other news:
Yesterday I planted a pumpkin vine in the front garden. I built a little mound out of a 2/3 mix of compost and dirt (it was not good enough to be called soil), and snugged it up against a post and bordered it with three boulders to make it appear a little more natural than...well, a pile of dirt sitting in the middle of nowhere:
Then I planted the vine and mulched it well with shredded leaves. The idea is to train the vine along and over the split rail fence. This area gets sun in the morning and late afternoon, and is pretty dry shade, so I'm hoping to avoid powdery mildew. We'll just have to see.
Then in the autumn, when the pumpkins are ripe, I'll have a block party and everyone in the neighborhood who wants one can pick a pumpkin for his/her front porch. If you squinch your mental eyes, I think you can see what it is going to look like (if all goes well):
Still having a little trouble seeing it? Well, let me adjust this little knobby thingy, and turn up that little doodad...
I am reminded tonight of something my grandmother, a starchy, no-nonsense country school teacher, once said to my mother, who, as a young bride, was worried about learning to cook. She said, "If you can read, you can cook."
My mother told me this story when I was very young, and it struck a deep and rich chord in me. What's more, as I've wound my way through life, I have found that the same applies to more than cooking. In fact, it pertains to nearly everything a body might want to do around the home: Don't know how to build a fence? Install a light fixture? Carve a canoe paddle? Build a patio from stone? Add a roof vent? Pickle cucumbers? Put up drywall? Use a jack plane? Knock a hole in an outside wall and install a salvaged window? There are instructions out there--find them and get to work.
Self-sufficiency, to my mind, is not about being totally independent. After all, there's a point at which total independence becomes alone, and I find too much joy in community to wish to live alone in this world. Rather, I think it is embodied in my grandmother's attitude toward cooking: do what needs to be done and don't let the fact that you weren't born doing it get in the way. It's a moxie, square your shoulders, sew-yer-own-leg-back-on-with-spit-and-barbed-wire way of thinking. It's can-do-ness. It's grit.
It's what your grandmother had.
Sue Hubbell, in her simple, elegant book, A Country Year, had much to say about self-sufficiency in her chapter on cutting firewood. Her husband of many years used to be the one who wielded the chainsaw, but he left, and the task fell to her to learn to do it for herself. She writes:
"[The chainsaw] makes a terrible racket, but I am fond of it. It is one of the first tools I learned to master on my own, and it is important to me. My woodstove, a simple black cast-iron-and-sheet-metal affair, is the only source of heat for my cabin in winter, and if I do not have firewood to burn in it, the dogs, cat, the houseplants, the water in my pipes and I will all freeze. It is wonderfully simple and direct: cut wood or die."
Cut wood or die. To read the book is to understand the full meaning of that most reductive of phrases. Life is hard--sometimes much harder than what we feel we can bear--but at the end of the day, we learn to cut wood or we die.
Today I'm taking some of my students to the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in Milnesand, New Mexico, where, hopefully, the rain we've/they've been having will let up enough for us to watch the chickens do their courtship thing.
The festival, co-hosted every year by The Nature Conservancy and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, is always a blast, chicken appearances or no, with good food, good company, and informative talks and workshops. As a bonus, my students also do a service project each year to help restore habitat and protect the struggling population of the LPC. I say it is a bonus, because aside from actually getting to see the chicken dance, I think everyone feels it is the highlight of the weekend.
My students in my Introductory Fieldcraft class have been working on another service project this semester, helping to re-introduce native trees at the Lubbock Lake Landmark, where we often hold our classes. I've included here some photos from that project:
I've come to believe service is an important tool in the process of knowing a place. Until you work with a landscape--actually interact with it in a way that requires you to understand its needs--you are merely standing on the outside, looking in. Gardeners understand this.
I thought I'd select one of my own favorites for today's elevator music: "Joy is a kind of courage."
And for your viewing pleasure, I'll include a few photos of what's blooming in the victory garden, in today's morning rain.
And so it came to pass that I was driving to the nursery to pick up some more flagstone for the wine patio, when a song came on the radio. It was “Mercy Mercy Me,” originally written and sung by Marvin Gaye, only Marvin wasn’t singing it this time. Instead, it was an artist I’d never heard before, Eleanor McEvoy (not surprising, since I am probably the only person on the planet who doesn’t really “get” music. But that’s a story for another time).
Maybe it was because it was being sung by someone else, maybe it was because it was this particular someone else, maybe it was some combination of the two—whatever the reason, though I'd grown up with the song, I heard the words, really heard them, for the first time and I was filled with a powerful sorrow from it.
If you need a memory nudge, here are the lyrics. I’m not going to reprint them, owing to copyright issues, but the gist of the song is that things aren’t what they used to be because we’ve gone and poisoned the Earth.
McEvoy’s rendition is slow and haunting, and utterly without hope. And it struck me as I listened to it that this is exactly how I feel, deep down inside, close to that place where the spirit resides. I feel that the situation is truly hopeless. That this song has been around for nearly forty years and it is still relevant made me even sadder. Nothing has really changed. We have made no progress in our understanding. We are always fighting the same old fights.
I feel that way most of the time about all of it—not just the environment, but wars, and health care for people who can’t afford it, and folks being unable to get along with one another without all the meanness and anger.
My, my, I had to go waaaay back into the post vault to find this one. It was dark and dusty back there, with forgotten posts staring accusingly at me...kind of scary, actually.
Anyway, per the request that came in yesterday, here it is:
A few years ago I had a head injury that left me with a condition called "benign paroxysmal positional vertigo"--I look up and to the right and the world I see begins to spin. It comes and goes, and I've gotten used to it over time, so it rarely limits me. These days I seldom notice it at all, except when I am trying to find birds in the canopy of trees, or high in the sky. Birds are worth it, though.
Today I was looking for them in the pecan trees--goldfinches, mainly. I went out to the garden with the camera and waited for them to come to the thistle feeder so I could get a good shot. I could sense them flying into the trees, staging there while they decided that it was safe to approach the feeder with me standing so close. I waited, too, until my curiosity got the better of me and I looked up. The branches shifted and twirled as the vertigo was triggered, but I stuck it out. By and by the dizzyiness settled down, and thus I stood there, watching them watching me.
The goldfinches come to my yard every winter, part of a larger, seasonal cycle of bird migration that has gone on for millenia, and will, hopefully, continue ad infinitum. Seeing them return always reminds me that there is a whole world that spins out there--constantly, faithfully--even when I am not looking up to see it doing so.
If anyone has another favorite from the recesses of the post vault, let me know and I'll see if I can find it. Most of them are filed in the pages that are tabbed at the top of the blog (though, admittedly, this one was not, since it was so old).
Part of the reason I've been so busy has nothing to do with school, but with my recent involvement in helping to re-write the by-laws of our neighborhood association. We had a long night of it yesterday, but we stuck with it and hammered all the wrinkles out. I have to say that it has been a blast, and I feel like we've done a good job. It feels a little like Mayberry RFD, you know? All that gettin' together and discussin', with a healthy combination of passion, concern, and good manners. Makes me proud of us.
Anyway, in the spirit of all that voting we've been doing on "article this" and "amendment that," I thought I'd throw the floor open to suggestions for tomorrow's Bike Garden elevator music. Do any of you have suggestions on what would make a good repeat performer? Dare I dream that you might have favorites? If so, leave a comment here or on the Facebook fan page...
Greetings all--last week and this week are fast becoming the two busiest of the semester, so The Management here at The Bike Garden is instituting a self-imposed hiatus in order to remain not-too-crazy. We know how boring silence can be however, so during this brief lull in posting activity, we will fill the airspace with our version of elevator music, the reprise of personal favorites from the Post Vault, starting off with this all-time crowd-pleaser: "I am a trained naturalist. And cook."
I'll be back next week with plenty of good stuff to report. In the meantime, y'all have a good week and don't take any wooden nickels. Cheerio!
And now, cue the MuzaK!
Readers may remember this tree and my ambivalenceabout getting rid of it:
Well, the drought this summer has finally gone and done it in and I find that my ambivalence about it has done gone as well. So with a three-day weekend staring me in the face, I decided it was a good time to do the dirty deed and dig it up.
But when I went to water it in (you should never, ever try to dig in west Texas dirt without watering it first; failure to do so could break a shovel), I found these among the suckers at its base:
Now, the Big Walu and I don’t do any golfing, and as far as I know, the schnoodles don’t either, so I’ll admit to being baffled at first as to what they were doing under the tree. But I am a trained naturalist, as you well know, and it wasn’t too many minutes before it hit me what was really going on here.
These must be squirrel eggs!
Yes, that’s right. My arch frenemies have gone all broody on me and started hiding their eggs under trees. I have read about this in books, but have never actually had the good fortune to see it for myself in the wild. What a coup this is indeed.
Now, I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately, such as this one by Karen at Greenwalks, about how good fresh eggs taste, and they’ve made me so jealous I just want to spit like a camel. As y’all know, I’ve wanted some chickens of my own for just about the longest time, and so all these posts about fresh eggs merely serve to torment me. But when I found these gems under the tree, I knew I had a chance to experience a little fresher-than-fresh egg nirvana of my own.
Frying up the eggs:
I like my eggs on dry toast so as to fully taste their eggy goodness:
Here is a picture of me eating the eggs:
Oh, sorry. I think the camera slipped a tad. Here’s a better shot:
No, that still didn’t get it. Let’s try one more time:
Ah, yes, there we go. I thought I could detect a hint of pear layered with a soupconof grassiness. In all, they were delightful, if a bit on the bouncy side, and everything a fresh egg is cracked up to be.
Well, as I hinted last week, I had an epiphany of sorts when considering what to do about the plantings in my front garden now that the hardscaping is behind me. Partly, I was thinking about how nicely the spring star flower has naturalized in the back garden:
But I was also thinking about how tired and overgrown some of the front garden was starting to look, as in this unkempt, winter-damaged troika of mule-ear prickly pear, Costa Rica yucca, and purple sage:
I know that Fridays are cartoon days here at The Bike Garden, but ever since P&H did the chicken walk on the red carpet Monday, I've been unable to coax them out of the coop for their regularly scheduled chores.
Stars. Whaddya gonna do?
They're probably in there eating bon-bons and watching "Top Chef."
So instead of a cartoon today, I thought I'd offer a little teaser about an epiphany I had last night while walking around the garden, trying to figure out what plants are going to go where.