At Sunrise – The soft warmth of morning assures even more days of ripening harvest

It’s the first day after labour day, a warm day after a tempestuous weekend of high winds bending the sunflowers close to the ground. I could do nothing but give them my assurance that the wind would pass. Things are different now. Sleep during the cool nights is easier, unpicked basil is turning yellow, and the rabbits have finally given in and helped themselves to the lettuce. But the squash, melons and cucumbers continue to grow, tomatoes keep ripening and various flowers bloom, though their number, size and intensity of colour is less.

Now, I’m not one to embrace aging (friends insist they are past their best before date when I feel I have yet to reach mine) or even the autumn, regretfully sighing that summer is over. We’ll celebrate autumn soon enough. I sat out in the warm September sunrise this morning, not feeling that sudden jolt that launches school children back into the classroom, with new pens, crisp note books, combed hair and clean ears. Yes, the sun rose a little later, a smidgen farther to the south, but the morning still held its own characteristic magic. A squirrel stood on his hind legs and helped himself to the finally ripening raspberries, before I quietly shushed him, forcing him to boldly climb a sunflower and help himself to the seeds. I had to get my kitchen knife and decapitate the sunflowers (not the squirrel) so that I have some seeds for next year’s crop. Last year the squirrels and bluejays beat me to it.

Yes there is an impulse to want to dig things under, and mulch, and add soil, and flatten the dying and dead stems so that next spring’s garden is that much better, but for now, the in between time, the headless sunflowers, golden grass, and fists full of tomatoes, have their turn before the autumn wind does knock them to the ground, and they freeze to a brown mush. I close my eyes and halt September, let the crickets’ song fill my skull, sparkling inside my brain, punctuated by the far off call of a jay.

Sleepy good morning fauna sifts its way through day, teaching me stillness

I’m always saying that the morning is my favourite time of day, but I am not the only one. There are hummingbirds now, about four. I always thought there was just one who was very busy. They enjoy almost all of the flowers, not just the nectar bearing ones. I am not sure if they are feeding off of the small bugs or perhaps drinking the bit of dew left before the day warms up. meanwhile the birdbath gets busier as the day grows warmer. Late morning the birds are not as territorial and there will be at least five of them all splashing and sharing the bath. (Yesterday morning I caught a picture of this one, which I believe is some kind of baby bird of prey.) I give them fresh water whenever I can. They seem to appreciate it, although some might say that appreciating and enjoying are things that birds do not do. After all of this activity I head to work and a deer crosses my path. I know there will likely be another and slow the car. I find myself between the two of them –– a mother and a faun perhaps. So I stop the car and we all just look at one another and I grab the camera and start taking pictures out the window. Half the time I wonder whether to grab the camera, or just enjoy the moment as it is. I do a little of both.

Late Summer’s Gifts – Ripe blazing colours that taste as strong and sweet as the air in the field

Many of my friends were pulling full heads of lettuce out of the ground in June. I had barely been planting much by then, although I was relishing my pickaxe and how I can now plant anything I want anywhere I can slam it into the land. It’s a grey day and no promise of anything other than more grey––the rain has been unspectacular, no thunder. I made a pie from not ripe peaches, hoping the cooking of it would miraculously make them flavourful and ripe seeming. Then with the extra crust I made a small blueberry pie, using the large BC blueberries, although I believe the smaller ones to be more flavourful. After all of this activity and endlessly washing dishes and raw pie goop off of everywhere, and eating some pie, and feeling quite full (summer demands we comsume beer, pie, ice cream), I decided to take a walk out in the yard and to the back of the lot. It’s amazing to see all of the edibles ripening. I get my tomato seedlings down the road from a woman, Vicki, who produces over 150 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes.

I bought and planted five. Everyday now, I have enough for a salad. I’ll buy some bushels for my tomato sauce later this month. I had reconciled myself to not having any raspberries this year, this being the second season of the raspberry bush. Sometime late in the season they appeared, not red yet and I wonder if it will happen. But today I did notice two absolutely red and ready and after I took this picture we ate them. I wandered to the back of the field and found that our old apple tree, in dormancy last year, had yielded a huge amount of apples, many of them on the ground now. On the way back to the house, judging by the amount of deer poop on the ground, I figured that the deer were making good use of the apples. Half way back I noticed that our juniper trees, red cedar we usually call them, are covered with little blue berries. When you pinch them they small like, yes, gin. I have looked for recipes for gin but the closest I can get is to buy vodka and infuse it with the berries. I suppose I would have to buy a distillery to actually make gin. Add this to my to do list. I should also be looking for something to press sunflower seeds for the oil. The sunflowers are now twice my height, although this one, one of the shortest is at eye level. I’ll get the seeds before the birds or squirrels do, save them for next year’s crop and maybe give away some for Christmas presents. In the  meantime I’ll be having tomato salad for dinner and probably more pie.

Argiope Aurantia – Sharp serrated points of bumble bee colour cut my field of view

I guess you could say I freaked out yesterday when I came across this little guy out in the meadow. I’d been pruning and “editing” the garden, everything reacting to the heat, the over leafy tomato plants, the dying echinacea, the wilting daisies, and never-to-perform black eyed susans. On the other side of the house I had transplanted the wild version of Phlox–the ones that grow like weeds, because they are weeds–pretty ones. The plants had dried so I was squeezing their seed pods and delighting in the small outbursts, all the while hoping that we will have a full section of phlox next spring. As I grabbed one of the dried stems I came across an insect that looked like a cross between a praying mantis and a bamboo twig. I didn’t get a photo of that, but did enjoy having him wander up my arm and approach me with the same curiosity. When I returned the “living twig” to its slice of grass, this spider caught my eye. She was waiting in the middle of her web. To me she looked like a cross between something very poisonous and a bumble bee. She looked foreign, tropical and nasty. A quick google calmed my nerves that she is harmless, native to Ontario and loves eating bugs. Her name is too long to go into, but then so are most names, just complicated latin or greek terms that take away from the impact of colour, touch, smell or anything to do with the senses, although I suppose hearing a latin term can be quite stimulating. I’m the kind that buys plants for what they do or where they will be happiest but promptly forget their names: “That one smells like licorice, that one attracts butterflies, that one is tall and blue, that one looks like that one but isn’t perennial” etc. Well this one eats her web at the end of the day and then makes a new one in the morning. The male makes a web circling her web. She lays up to one thousand eggs in the fall and promptly dies, and the eggs hatch the following spring. It should be an interesting spot come next spring with yellow spiders, blue phlox and green twiggy bugs.

The Tree of Secrets – Alive as a birch, now transcending dead wood with bark balanced apart

I was recently up at my parents cottage, upstream from Ottawa on the south shore of the Ottawa river, for a round of cleaning and organizing for those who might arrive later this summer for a stay. Actually my motives were simple — just to spend some time with my parents while involved in an activity we were very familiar with: cleaning the evidence of three seasons abandonment to weather, forest, and fauna, away There were the usual new holes chewed where wall meets ceiling, mouse poop on the dinnerware, still-life moths from earlier this summer or left over from last year.

This tree, which you see from our outer verandah, on the slope towards the river, caught my eye, and you can see why, as any strange shape or shadow in the woods draws our eye. The bark had split from base to somewhere up in the sky, and was drawn back, revealing the bare wood of the tree. I don’t know if this birch is still alive. Probably not. But in its inanimate way it had a new responsibility, no longer a watcher of the woods, with its colleagues, now it was time to draw back its century old skins — its cloaks — unabashedly show the ravages of time, the way we do in the doctors office, bare, or in our undergarments, seated high on the bed, or standing by the scale, and tell the story of what our bodies have seen and been exposed to for all these years. I figured if the tree had to come clean with a story, the story is echoing deep within its core. This Grande Dame of a tree has got me thinking that it’s time to write what I believe she may have seen for all those years.

My parents built the cottage around the time I was born, so it has seen at least those decades of us running up and down the hill to the beach, with melting popsicles, a soggy dog, paddles, life jackets, canoes, people in casts, bikinis and beach towels. My recent novel is based on the land here, but the story is constructed according to the elements I believed and had learned would drive the story — quirky characterizations of fictional characters, conflict, simplicity, all told in the voice of a twelve year old. I have decided to relate what I can of my summers in this enchanted place and “blog” it on another page on this site. Perhaps to tell the tree’s story, and weave it into my own. There might be no pictures, unless they are those I can find in photo albums, and the bottom of drawers and show boxes, but I challenge myself to get it right with words so there need be no pictures. We’ll see how it goes…

Garden Gems – Frail and meek present themselves in unexpected nooks of time and place

We are constantly visited in our little corner of the county, and each bit of fauna has its own story. I found the tree frog in the bottom of a flower pot that was holding a bag of decorative stones. I removed the bag of stones and there was the frog sitting in a pool of water. I thought he was some forgotten ornament at first and then, when I realized he was real, figured he was dead. But he climbed onto my hand and after quite a while decided to wander onto a waiting leaf.

The dragon flies seem to be very intuitive and trusting. This one kept returning to the dried stalk and posing. One night, at my parents cottage, I could hear a loud flapping, in the dark, on the porch where I slept. I knew there was some large insect trying to get out into the night air, and freedom, but couldn’t seem to find him. When I got up in the morning to watch the sunrise and then return to my bed, a huge dragon fly was lying right in the centre of the bed. He climbed onto my hand and let me release him outdoors.

I had been packing up some outdoor mosquito netting last summer, and just as I tossed the folded net to the ground I quickly retrieved it again, as I caught sight of this beautiful praying mantis. He too was very co-operative about having his picture taken. I’m sure I appeared as curious to him as he did to me. Last weekend as I salvaged the vegetable garden from a couple of very heavy downpours mixed with days of baking sun, which had turned the soil to an arid brick-like texture, I noticed a baby one of these. It reminded me that, earlier in the year, while taking a bus from Toronto because the train I was supposed to be on had derailed, I was seated beside a lovely woman, about my age, and the conversation turned towards nature. She told me the praying mantis was a gift and a blessing. These beings seem like glorious pieces of living jewellery that catch my eye and are more difficult to possess than an emerald or sapphire brooch might be.

Atmospheric – Warm waves of raindrops sift into six thirty somnambulist rising

They say “rain before seven, sun by eleven,” which seems to happen most times, even a few times in Vancouver. I see rain headed for us coming up from the states, Ohio, MIchigan or Illinois. It usually plows through Niagara or Toronto and I figure we’re next in line, but it often splits and heads north of the 401 or along the south side of the lake through New York state. Sometimes you can see Rochester getting slammed by huge thunderheads lighting up the stratosphere, or see north to Napanee and the nimbo stratus bursting their contents, while the skies above us are clear and the sun is setting in the west. This morning we had the full on thunder, lightening and waves of warm rain, for the garden to soak up. I knew it would be sunny by eleven but I didn’t know we’d have the heat and humidity—not that I mind. This is what summer in Ontario is about, suffering until you can make it to a beach, a pool, or just a cold shower. It’s not that easy for everyone; some folks are stuck in hot apartments with not even a fan or a breeze or an open window. Some don’t see it in as romantic and atmospheric a way as I do. I may not see it that way when I have to leave my air conditioned place of employment and step back out onto the street.

Post Party – Ridged coloured mylar wrapped in soda pop sticky fists abandons flight

We live on what is technically an island in Lake Ontario about two hours east of Toronto. One of the beaches, about a 10 km stretch of lovely white sand, faces west towards Toronto, and most of the approaching weather. When I walk the beach I find, tangled in the grass, these remnants of foil balloons, let go from some child’s fist or some drunken wedding guest’s sticky fingers, as they turn to have one more dance before deciding they’ve had too much fun. The balloons leave amidst whoops and squeals and lazy laughter from backyards of tight Victorian homes, in neighbourhoods with names like Riverdale or Cabbagetown, or broad brand new back yards laid with perfect turf, in North York or Bramalea. They fly and float east and finally descend into the water or onto the beach and collect themselves, still bright with colour, but weak of inflation, and breathe only with the passing breezes. They disappear over time, whether it is under the sand or over another dune and into the dry blasted tundra of thorns and thistles and bleached white bones, visited by no one.

Sunday Rescue – Ripples from out there barely wash fine sanded soft wing-tips touched with fear

I was walking along the beach last weekend and found this guy floundering at water’s edge. I had rescued the odd monarch from the cruel fate of drowning in waves and wet sand. I was convinced that this moth/ butterfly was dead but wanted to give him a proper place to be displayed, somewhere on higher ground. After taking him onto my finger, and feeling no response, I was amazed at how sensitive my finger tip was to the feeling of life coming back into his little legs. He clutched the end of my finger, and, I suppose decided to trust my intentions. I am convinced that, at some point, animals do make that decision to trust–chickadees decide to eat out of my hand (because the feeder is empty). I took him to a wavering leaf above the beach where he could dry off and at least spend a few hours in the sun, whether they were his last, or just a recuperation before making a pilgrimage over Lake Ontario. Then I grabbed my camera…