Nesting

When I go out of doors on a splendid day, I keep finding things to observe and tasks to do–before long, I realize I have spent more time than I intended (and indoor tasks are calling). Today’s yardwork entailed cutting back weed brush and vines before the trees and shrubs leaf. It can be challenging, as it requires the intrepid gardener to crawl into the woodlot and under the large pines and tamarack to yank loose entwined wild grape, Asiatic rose, elderberry, blackberry, and poison ivy stems, there in the tangled vitality of plants-that-thrive-where-I-don’t-want-them.

The mourning doves kept me company with their coos, and small birds busily checked out the birdhouses in the meadow. Soon it will be nesting time (already is, for the owls).

Always, when I cut brush, I find last year’s nests. Look at this one:

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A bird made this! Probably an oriole. It is a sweet little bag woven or knitted without any tools but the animal’s own body. Beak and feet, saliva, and the nestling body rounding out the basket within.

Here, you can see the interior of the nest; I folded back the strong but delicately-woven sack and the interior nest is visible.

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I was a little surprised at how well the bird-made mesh held up as I handled it. It is really resilient–those birds know what they’re doing!

Here is a more detailed photo of the little nest-basket inside of the sack:

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The process of gardening heals me in so many ways. I sense the need to write poetry again, and I get the urge to tidy up the landscape and prep the vegetable patch. Things will return to themselves in their own time and their own ways. The birds return. The flowers return. My own nest needs attention, and the energy for that attention will also return.

Give it time.

In this photo, the shadow on the right shows how porous the nest’s weave is, almost like macrame. It seems like a miracle to me. And so beautiful.

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Beatrix Potter, interdisciplinary artist

Beatrix Potter came to mind yesterday when I watched a young rabbit struggle into a fix as it tried to escape from me through the newly-reinforced fencing. It had gotten in at a spot we left open after some hours of work on a hot day yesterday, but it could not locate the open span when I cornered it among my beans.rabbit-014

In “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” Potter writes: “Peter was most dreadfully frightened; he rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate…he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net…”

Very observant description of cornered-bunny behavior. I felt rather sorry for the bunny in my vegetable patch. It had squeezed itself between a gap and then found itself impressed against chicken wire, and for a few seconds there was a mash-up of fur, feet, and fencing in a whir of sheer panic. The rabbit freed itself, however, with an acrobatic twist through a gap, ran back into the garden; and after a few false tries, finally located an unreinforced section of the garden fence and escaped toward the hedgerow.

~

Potter was an admirable writer of engaging prose, a terrific watercolorist and an amateur mycologist whose careful observations of the plants and animals in her Lakes District farm environs still draw admirers to her work. I think of her as a kind of turn-of-the-century interdisciplinary artist, though I cannot imagine she would ever perceive of herself in that light. She might agree that she was an excellent observer of the world–a quality that benefits scientists, artists, writers, journalists, and farmers. If all you think of when you see her name is “children’s books,” go to the Beatrix Potter Society’s website and learn how much you did not know about her.

 

 

Garden breach

Summer solstice. The robins are on their second brood; mulberries are ripening, and the bluebirds have arrived for the feast.

Fifteen years ago, we set up my garden to be as impregnable as possible from incursions by deer, groundhogs, and rabbits. We accomplished this by digging a narrow trench on the perimeter, lining the trench with wire mesh fabric, and filling the trench with gravel–after setting the steel posts and putting the steel wire fencing in place. The strategy even deterred weeds for about three years.

But rain and snow and air and therefore rust, along with ground heave and the occasional bump by lawnmowers, have had their way. While deer still ignore the plot, this year, bunnies have breached the fence. It’s time to find a new way to keep them from the edges.

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I have previously written about how fringes and perimeters can be boundaries or places of activity and fluidity, so it seems I am a hypocrite for keeping my rabbits at bay. Maybe I ought to find a balance? Living with their denuding of my carrot tops?

–No, they’ve plenty to eat in my lawn and in the meadow. The balance goes both ways.

Their persistence interests me. Their movements are both awkward and graceful. Their ears are translucent in the early morning sunshine. I don’t mind having them around as long as they stay out of my vegetable patch, and they feed the owls and hawks, whom I also enjoy.

All along the edges…

~

Curious information note of the day:

According to neuroscientific studies, less than 0.1% of the information carried in the optic nerve at any given moment passes through the visual attentional gateway (“bottleneck”) after the attentional gateway recognizes a cue; the cue evidently serves as a gating mechanism to regulate the flow of image data.*

What this implies (I think) is that the bunny I manage to spot under the leafy tomato plant in my garden gets processed as “bunny” once my saccadic eye movements, taking in the huge quantity of data from a day outdoors in summer, recognizes something in the shadows that signals “rabbit?” and then filters out other, distracting data from my view.

At which point, behavioral habit kicks in and, like Mr. McGregor, I dash after Peter with a hoe.

~

*partial quote/paraphrase from “Dynamic Routing Strategies in Sensory, Motor and Cognitive Processing,” Van Essen, Anderson, and Olshausen 1994 MIT Press Large-Scale Neuronal Theories of the Brain, ed Koch & Davis.

 

Devil-bush

asian rose-amerMultiflora rose: Rosa multiflora Thunbergia ex Murr, is banned in 13 US states, including my own, where it thrives at the expense of native species of many kinds.

Here (at left) it mingles with another invader–Amur honeysuckle (lonicera maackii) along the Tulpehocken Creek in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Amur honeysuckle has not yet made the “illegal plant” list. Both shrubs spread easily because they do not mind disturbed soil and they have attractive berries that birds consume, thus sowing the bushes widely.

I do not know how a plant can be illegal if the birds are our planting culprits; but I do know how hard it is to eradicate multiflora rose, which flourishes in our hedgerow among the sassafras, tulip trees, green ash, white ash, honey locust, wild cherry, walnut, oaks, and maples.

The shrubs are wickedly hard to pull out, as they are stemmy and prickly and have deep roots. We’ve hacked them out of the rocks and pulled them out by chain with our tractor and weed-whacked them and used a machete in the thickets. We have often enlisted our son in our efforts to limit their number along our property line. He refers to the rose as “devil-bush,” having been scourged by its thorns numerous times while endeavoring to cut back or pull out the shrubs. I, too, have shed my blood over its white flowers–not to mention erupted in rashes, because poison ivy frequently entwines itself around the stems of multiflora rose.

Well. They are in bloom now (end of May). And so far, the roses are winning.

~~

The USDA has a page devoted to information on multiflora rose, a “noxious plant.”

 

 

 

Landscape, personal place

I’ve been enjoying Rachel Solnit’s prose lately, most recently her book As Eve Said to the Serpent, some of which derives from art criticism but which is also the kind of multidisciplinary approach to observing the relationships between things that intrigues me. What she notices about the environment, about art that engages with or alters place/landscape, and about environmentalists themselves piques my own inquisitiveness and gets me asking questions I might not otherwise have come up with. Place, particularly the personal “environment” that shelters, inspires, or calms me, is something I consider frequently.

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[one of my happy places]

Perhaps that’s because I am by nature an introvert; perhaps it has to do with being a poet. The personal aesthetics of place–a room or a landscape–exert significant effects upon my frame of mind and mode of thinking.

Why is that?

Maybe there is an evolutionary reason for the need to find a favorite spot, a hide-away, a happy place. We may still possess that ancient urge for security, the cave or treehouse we can use to hide from predators or from the weather.

And landscape itself can be a secret place, or a sacred place. A wide expanse of openness means it is easier to observe predators prowling in the distance, giving the prey animal time to flee. Or to explore, to survey, to run embracing what is far away and only imaginable.

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Neolithic stone circle, Castlerigg, Cumbria, UK

~

C.D. Wright: “What landscape is: not a closed space, not in fact capable of closure. With each survey the corners shift. Distance is the goal; groping the means.”

Desire

In a comment on my last post, M. mentioned the sensuality of gardening. Truly, there is little that can offer more joys to the senses or more opportunity for sensual encounters of various kinds than a garden. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, all those pollinators going about helping the flowers have sex; the pistils and stamens, the ovaries fruiting, the scents and colors and attractions doing the work of creating what is juicy, spicy, tasty, fortifying, fragrant, or gloriously beautiful. While picking beans in the heat of late July or weeding in the dog days of August, however, the gardener may be forgiven for occasionally overlooking these aspects.

ann e michaelBut the garden can be considered sensual–the garden is all about desire. My desire to feed my family with fresh foods, or to decorate my view with blooms. My desire to share the garden bounty with friends, or to try new varieties of vegetables, or to see what happens if I let that volunteer melon grow.

And if plants can be said to possess any so-called human quality, I can easily anthropomorphize them as desirous. The desire to live, and to live in order to reproduce: these are the most basic purposes of our DNA, and of the plant’s. As a gardener, I manipulate the plant’s desire. I pick the beans before the seeds have ripened in the pods, and the bean plant in its urge to produce seed sends out more flowers, more young and tender green beans. It will continue in its desperate output until the roots are exhausted. Quite the pathetic metaphor, I guess.

The plants evolve each to its own specialty. Those that “choose” dispersal of seed via bird digestive tracts grow vivid against foliage, easy to see. Those that rely on maturing into pulpy rot, to ensure their seeds get nurtured in the soil beneath the parent plant, hide under large leaves close to the earth. The hard pit, the soft seed pouch that requires fermentation to germinate, the barbed husk that gets carried off in the fur on a mammal’s leg–gardeners often foil some of these strategies, but only temporarily. We turn them to our own uses because we desire the sweet kernels, the juicy flesh, the ripe scents.

Meanwhile the plants continue making more of themselves. The wind blows, and delicious summer fragrances enhance it as it floats the pollen toward awaiting receptors; the bees collect pollen on their legs while climbing into and out of flowers (how sexy), the female flowers of the squash stems swell…

What makes our purpose any different from the plants’? Maybe we experience desire not because we are human, but because we exist, as plants do, to leave something of ourselves behind. That something will not always be our DNA, however. It may be a system, a process, a work of art, a story. Something, perhaps, that we desire.

 

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Too busy to write (sigh)

May’s dry weather affected the peas, but otherwise the garden’s been outdoing itself this year–with no real help from me. The tomatoes have expressed their vine-nature, stretching to 7 feet in height, with the gold cherry tomatoes flinging their branches far into the tomato patch and other areas of the garden. That means I can pick cherry tomatoes and zucchini at one go! And whenever I get a free moment (not too many lately), I am harvesting or cooking or freezing the produce instead of writing.

I had two “volunteer” vines this year, cantaloupe and butternut squash. Their seeds survived winter in the compost bin, and they sprouted near the fence at opposite sides of the patch. I let them be, and was surprised to find they fruited well (the cantaloupe was from a grocery-store purchase, was surely a hybrid, and therefore might have produced flowers only, or bland fruit). The squash is terrific; and the melon, while not as sweet as one might hope, nevertheless had good flesh and flavor.

At this time of year, the garden’s become a butterfly and bee haven as well as a cutting garden. It looks a mess: tall cosmos of several varieties, sunflowers and perennial sunflowers and queen-anne’s-lace, cornflowers and zinnias and tithonia clustered together, colors clashing, pollinators buzzing, finches and other small birds busy at the seed-heads.

For I have not been weeding, as I have not been writing. Other priorities are claiming the be-here-now of my life; but I’m happy to find that the garden, and my writing life, can be sustained through other things and returned to at better times. Namaste. Have a tomato.

Bounty

Bounty