Category: Gardening


crescentmoon

The first photographers who labored to put image to paper almost 200 years ago couldn’t have known that someday, a small camera within the budget of average Americans would be able to capture the crescent moon.  My little camera sees this New Year’s moon in more detail than the first photographers ever could. And  in another 200 years, we will probably live on the moon if we live at all.

golden_crescent_moon

Credit: Dcibillus, Wikimedia Commons, 2009

But using an electronic eye to see into the heavens doesn’t resonate like using imagination to daydream the moon and stars. Cultures around the world saw the sliver of waxing or waning moon and turned it into concept or goddesses or some symbol of the mysterious.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Using that electronic eye catches scenes quickly, gives a nice visual to tell a story with, lets us race by and get to the next part of our lives.  But slowing down, seeing that symbol hanging in the dark sky far above and imagining its meaning and power, stays more with us.

I spent the holidays puttering, cleaning, slowing down, simplifying not making resolutions to do more and better, but just stopping to think and to reach back to the things that make me happy.  The things that should inspire gratitude.

In a busy life, it’s easy to forget to be grateful. It’s been unusually cold here, and the cold stretches on. The ground is hard and the water tanks freeze nightly.  I carry water for half an hour every morning. It’s bone-chilling damp and frigid when I get off the train in Seattle. But electronics give me pause and perspective:  The jet stream that is chilling us with arctic flow is pressing a massive incoming pineapple express into northern California, which will experience major flooding, avalanches, and landslides.  That storm would have been barreling down on my area – if it hadn’t been so cold, that is. make_img

mtbaker

Mt. Baker, with a little steam rising to remind us it’s an active volcano.

And we’re not dry cold:  we’re having a phenomenal winter season, a good ski/snowshoe year, so there’s still time to get out to the mountains and enjoy and get back in shape for backpacking season.

 

 

larkeyMy remaining horse, and all the animals I’ve cared for here are also a reason for gratitude.  I bought this house, located in such a perilous place, for my horses.  Here I am now, down from four horses, two dogs, and two cats that came with the house.  I one horse left, and he’s ageing and looking sore on one leg, and we can’t figure out what it is.  I’m feeling the loss of my other horse, and this animal’s aching.

This stage can seem like the twilight of a flawed day that started with a brilliant, hopeful dawn.  You become worn being the angel of death ushering beloved animal companions one after the other  into eternal night. You wonder what would have been had you done something different.

Well, here’s the deal.  My dogs and horses forced me outside to get fresh air and exercise even when I didn’t want to go. They grounded me and gave me a badly needed sense of responsibility. They gave me reason to locate in a quiet sanctuary that protected me in some major life changes and difficult situations.

hawk3This sanctuary is where I learned to heal the land and make a home for wildlife.  Teaching other people what I learned over a decade of habitat restoration has made me a better communicator. Volunteering to give workshops lets me give something back to the world. My habitat project has helped my really see and understand wildlife. Animals have driven my art, my interests, my travel.  The drive to restore even more every year keeps me moving, digging the earth, creating hedgerows and gardens and wild, tangled refuges.

And my home is modest, but at least for now, I have a home.  My own home. Many, many people do not due to poverty, natural disaster, and war. Or they share dangerously cramped space with too many people.

whitehorseBy the end of holiday break, I could see my house as far more than an object and investment again. I slowed down, puttered around, rearranged my space, reconnected enough to see it as more than a snapshot.  Not  racing by, on a schedule to get things done, as a place of chores and responsibilities and somewhere to rest between work days.

I once again see home as a living place filled with stories and memories, souvenirs and mementos, many good times and some tough ones; the silent, non-judgemental keeper of my dreams and decisions.  My land is a driver for my best aspirations and successes. My horse is a welcome anchor, a creature who needs me as a familiar herd member, not a burden.

Sure, I wander around with my camera some, taking pictures of wildlife, the New Year’s Day sunrise and the crescent moon.  But I also stop, listen, imagine the moon and the hooting owls and trumpeting swans as symbols of something unearthly, daydream a novel of a mystical place where they are all gods- and well, you know.  Become human again.

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I look like one of those people, but I’m not.  No, I don’t watch television.  There is too much else to do. But that “else” isn’t pursuit of the spiritual, the religious, the social. I do things with my beat up hands, with my land, with my horses. In my spare time, I either stay home or pack bags and go:  near or far, with a pass or a passport; drive, take the bus or train, or fly; stay in a tent or a motel or a hut.

I’m not a total luddite:  I will indulge in crazy animated movies once in awhile. I obviously use electronics, digital cameras, a computer, a smartphone, a tablet.

 

But a bald eagle tumbling through the air grabbing at the talons of a territory-invading hawk is a commercial free distraction. The dark eyes of a harbor seal that has followed my kayak home and hovers in the pool by the beach is a soulful farewell. A hummingbird that weighs less than a nickel defending a stand of bee balm from butterflies, bees, and birds entertains.  These moments are far more arresting than a conversation over chai tea in a carefully designed faux salvage cafe decor.

HummerBranchThis region’s legendary traffic is my excuse for not indulging in urban cultural events and going to dinner with friends.  My friends live three dozen miles away, south on a perpetually crowded freeway, or a thousand miles away.  My family, like many, is spread across the country. But travel isn’t really the barrier, because I do that a lot.  I just like wandering around by my lonesome, in the moment, in as natural an environment as I can find. dragonfly1

I paid my dues retrieving my mother’s blood spattered, broken glasses from the wreckage of her truck 30 years ago. Already supremely independent and restless, I’ve never again been that easy close to people after that little tragedy.  I wander afar, road trip, hike, and camp on my own, or stay home to do artwork and landscaping in the company of animals, most of them wild. In practice, I’m an absent, unrelaible friend, checking in sporadically with pictures and stories about travel and home. RedSnake

So I don’t watch television, attend retreats to become mindful and soulful, seek cultural events and stimulating conversation over gourmet meals. I sound awful.  But I’m not a hermit: I work with the public and give volunteer presentations and workshops whenever I’m asked. I’m friendly to every friendly person I meet. I care about the friends I don’t keep up with. I’m interested in other people’s stories. It’s just that when the day is done, I take my stories home, disconnect from humanity, and go where the wild things are.

And that’s okay.  The world has enough people- it doesn’t need me out there.

VultureOnSlashPileThe animal company I keep does need people, though.  They need us to plant more trees and shrubs, build more rock piles and slash piles, hoist up more nests until there is enough nature to build their own.  They need cleaner, cooler water and skies without flight hazards and light pollution. At my little sanctuary, they reward my efforts by mulitplying and bringing their offspring back each year. My visitors are a study in simplicity, with simple wants:  food, family, turf, home. This, I understand.

 

Calm river in early fall

Calm river in early fall

Autumn is a season of giving and a prelude to the fear winter brings.  Gentle storms wash loosen leaves from trees, to be gathered in piles for mulching summer-parched plants.  Fruits, berries, and seeds that escape the beaks of birds drop to the soil to become next year’s volunteers. Pumpkins and squash wither in the chill and spill meat and seeds when mice make holes in their softened husks. Throughout my little landscape, plants bed themselves down with needles and leaves that will cushion them when rains pound and nourish their growing roots as they sleep.

Rainbows Mean Rain

Rainbows Mean Rain

Some rain has fallen, an antidote to a terrible, dry summer with historic stretches of heat and skies smudged with wildfire ash. The rivers ran low and hot, choking fish and shutting down fishing. Berries mummified on branches and canes.  If we had lived in a time before grocery stores, we would worry

about the coming winter.

Calm river below smoky skies

Summer’s smoky skies- there are mountains behind that smog

After a couple rainstorms, plants bloom again as if spring has arrived.  Grass springs back to life in the emerald green of first warmth even as the days become shorter and colder. The harvest moon looms large over the damp pasture at night as young coyotes steal under fences, hunting rabbits and voles.

Hey wait! It's fall, not blooming time!

Hey wait! It’s fall, not blooming time!

A late visitor- red admiral butterfly visiting a coneflower

A late visitor- red admiral butterfly visiting a coneflower

The barn swallows left after Labor Day, tiny agile pilots navigating the incredible journey to Central America.  Now snow geese are back from the opposite direction in the Arctic, their barking unmistakable on a foggy morning when they can’t be seen flying overhead.  A Stellars jay has returned after the summer, with its straggling imitation of a red-tailed hawk that impresses no bird foraging in the yard. A surprise visitor appears one sunny afternoon- a red admiral butterfly apparently affixed  to a coneflower bloom.  It seems late for this butterfly, but with an expanding crop of nettle to lay eggs on, it may be the product of multiple hatches this year.

Open-faced dahlias continue feeding bees

Open-faced dahlias continue feeding bees

Pacific chorus frogs croak from trees and shrubs on damp days.  There aren’t many frog-friendly days, what with the strong El Nino that is creating havoc elsewhere.  Here, we are still too dry.  My cedars are flagging, and a noble fir sacrifices needles on some branches that jump out visually when they turn yellow. Fall is usually a good time to plant trees and shrubs potted and tended over the summer, but this year, my shovel turns up dust a foot deep.

As I put my landscape to bed, clean gutters, and spread gravel in paddocks, I wonder what will be left on the other side of winter.  Will it be our turn for historic, destructive storms like the rest of the nation experienced this year?  Will my horse with his decaying ligaments still be alive?  Will the roof last, or will more windstorms peel off enough shingles to warrant an emergency repair? Will the river swell and breach the dikes with typhoon moisture from Japan, swept in on tropical winds from Hawaii? Or maybe we’ll sit parched all winter, with no snow for skiing this winter, or next summer’s river flows.

I’m always dubious about autumn- the gifts it presents are perhaps an apology for what comes next.  I’m sure people from time immemorial have looked askance at autumn, unsure of what the next months would bring. For thousands of years, people must have hoped for somewhere else to be the bullseye when the monster winter storm or evil deep freeze set in. They must have flipped a coin or a chunk of bone or a point carved of rock, anything to ward off the worst of winter while they still had a chance.  We’ll see.  We’ll see what’s left next spring.

Autumn Sunrise

Autumn Sunrise

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