The Wonder of Weeds

Somewhat like pointing out what is beautiful, labeling a plant a weed often depends on the eye – and circumstances – of the beholder. Growing up on the east coast, close to a beach, hands down, sandspurs were the enemy of every barefooted child. Sandspurs dominated our sandy lawn. My parents gave my brothers and me the summer chore of pulling up these stubborn plants and my animosity deepened. In my young adult days of back-to-earth living on a Kentucky farm, thistle and poke weed prevailed as pests. For the past twenty-three years the landscaped border of our small front yard was glorious with its fig tree, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, long-needle pines, maples, all planted by previous homeowners. However, the large back yard was turned over to natural habitat, re-designed over the years by storms. I loved the wild violets, profusion of clover, and dandelions. But oh, I dreaded the springtime appearance of chickweed.

My mountain dwelling has a yard with lovely kousa dogwoods, Japanese maple, cedars, viburnum, pear trees – and a few sparse patches of daisies and lilies. We also acquired a well-mulched hillside just waiting for another year’s planting. Despite our good efforts and intention to save the space, weeds appear as fierce competitors. When the sun gives me a brief reprieve from this summer’s heat, I find myself armed as though for battle, ready to commence the pulling up of weeds. Dried wayward spring onions and the persistent nutsedge yield to just a gentle pull; dandelion greens, and the oxalis which reminds me of a patch of shamrocks, also give up with little fuss. However, I am forced to dig and chop at the roots of thistles, unless I catch the plant as it first appears. But patches of crabgrass hold tight to the ground despite forcible effort. I put aside trowel and take on the roots with my long-handled shovel. Meanwhile I grow pleased at the number of weed-filled clear plastic bags I have collected.

However, I admit to having to do some attitude work as well. I had to arrive at a conscientious conclusion for what I experienced as personal conflict. To designate certain growing things as undesirable seems contrary to my general attitude that nature reveals wonder and all created things are purposeful, deserving my respect. The Garden Counselor (http://www.garden-counselor-lawn-care.com/) says that some people love crabgrass – farmers growing summer forage for cattle; environmental agencies cleaning up oil spills; homeowners who wouldn’t otherwise have anything green in their lawns. It is the very nature of crabgrass to form a group of like-minded weeds and to compete with other plants for room to grow. Every single crabgrass plant can produce 150,000 seeds.

Agriculturalists at Penn State Extension (http://extension.psu.edu/) declare that weeds can be beneficial as soil stabilizers, habitat and feed for wild life, nectar for bees, and weeds lead to employment opportunities. How about that! However, according to the extension agents weeds are generally classified as out-of-place, competitive, persistent, pernicious, and interfering. A weed doesn’t mean to be a weed; it’s just doing what comes naturally.” In the end, it’s all about balance.” Apparently when the undesirable qualities outweigh the apparent good points, weeds bring out the human inner need to control. The worrisome weeds brought out the warrior in me.

However, I have been making note of the tightly planted pollinator and wildlife habitat gardens in our community. Next year I will have that hillside filled with five varieties of daylilies; pink, yellow, and deep red coneflowers; southern blazing stars; milkweed, patches of phlox and the weeds won’t have room to work their way into my world. Right?

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Blooming Surprise

Surely it was early autumn
when the shooting star
burned its way to earth

planting its dust
in the  humble pine mulch
near our back wall.

Between winter and summer
solstice, particles cooled,
a bulb shaped, roots formed.

I never noticed
the signs of wonder
silently taking place

until a pink six petal
brilliant star appeared
in my garden, mid-July.

Under summer’s burning skies
the stargazer lily gives
a glowing performance.

It seems at first that it took but a few seasons to produce such a delight, but when I consider this as a moment in the dynamic, ever continuing history of the universe, I realize that it takes billions of year to bring forth such complex beauty. It is awesome that we have been given a part in this grand story.

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Tree Top Preacher or Sermon in Song

It was a rather foolish thought, I know, but just the kind of irrational anxiety that emerged when I was faced with leaving my secure nest, home for 23 years. What if there were no birds on the other side of the state to sing to me when I awakened? For years, the morning ritual of bird psalmody erased my night fears, and blessed the start of the day.

Numb and exhausted the first few days after my move, I was only vaguely aware of the trills outside my bedroom window. However by the fourth day, sitting on the deck with my morning coffee, I became aware that I was the captivated audience of a versatile songster, preaching from the top of a dying tree. I recognized the long hooked beak, brown robes, and speckled vest of the brown thrasher. Having most often spied the thrashers sweeping the ground for insects, I was unprepared for the performance of a virtuoso. With little repetition the preacher/songster’s versatile lines seemed to be punctuated with exclamation marks. “I have something to say, something to say! Listen up, listen up!” My delight turned into laughter as the preaching went on at great length. I finally began to think that important messages were being tossed out in the beauty of song.

For a month now the thrashers – there are more than one – have regularly regaled me with the “best of show” and I have listened with intent to translate. Experience tells me that the more I know of creation, the more I can appreciate the unique gift each being offers. Preacher bird, what can you tell me about making my way in the world?

Brown thrashers are collaborative nest makers, who hide their nests in tangled masses of shrubbery, unless of course, it is time to preach. Aggressive nest defenders, they are apt to deliver an intrusive man or beast a hard strike. After nine days, fully feathered nestlings can take flight. While they feast for every variety of bug, berry, or seed, skipping on the ground or in the shrubs, they can just as easily go after lizards, snakes, and tree frogs. Foraging among dead leaves in tree tops, belly full, sun’s warmth rising at the start of the day – well, there just might be something to say.

Through my laughter I could hear my new feathered friend sing: brown feathers have more song; make the best of whatever beak you’ve been given; eat well; skip often; know your territory; keep a keen eye on your turf; collaborate with friend or mate; don’t waste time, unless you feel the song bubbling and the call to entertain the world. Then the songster turned philosophical – from the tree top vantage the preacher sang: Every day I see the wonders of the world and that is cause to celebrate.

Considered the most versatile of songbirds with as many as 1,100 different lines, 100% of brown thrashers spend time in the United States. You can learn so much more at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Thrasher/lifehistory

“All About Birds”, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Brown Thrasher on branch

Moon at High Noon

Science is not my forte, but a little bit of knowledge mixed with awe can realign my world. I have come to appreciate the power of observation, which seems to be an essential dimension of a scientific approach. When I create the time and space to pay attention to the world outside my usual frame of reference, I experience mystery and a question eventually emerges.

I’ve been moon watching. Four weeks ago my granddaughter and I sat for the first time on my new mountain-view deck and observed the waxing crescent moon hanging close to Jupiter just after sunset. The June moon was just four days old. We shared the excitement of being amateur backyard astronomers. For the next few nights the moon appeared a bit later, a bit fuller, and bit more to the east. We discovered that thin crescent first day moon we spied in the west was not rising, it was setting.

When my grand-joy returned home, I kept scanning the night sky to feel our connection and realized that without a moon chart, I could not quite predict just where and when it would appear. I began waiting and watching for the arrival of the full moon which would coincide with the June 20 solstice. The night of the solstice I drove to the top of our mountain road to see the bright strawberry moon and offer my gratitude for its reassuring appearances.

I am not sure why “knowing” about the patterns of the orbiting moon helps my appreciating, but I think it is about my becoming a more attentive participant in the mysteries of the universe. Reading the stargazer’s footnotes, I discovered that the convex, protruding moon that later appeared was called the waning gibbous moon, and I already knew that the light would eventually disappear from my night view.

I have been measuring the first month of my transition to a new location in incremental steps of rising and setting moments, at times feeling like I am spinning in the same place. The moon has been a signifier that in nature’s pattern, I can predict the appearance of light in darkness. My aha awareness increased near the end of the month. Sitting on the same deck peering into the midday sky, I unexpectedly saw the moon at high noon; light upon light. Who looks for a sign of constancy when the day is bright? Who celebrates such an appearance?

My vantage point changes, but the predictable sky companion does not. I have moved on my own orbital path this month, a bit further away from my grandchildren, but they are always in my universe. In fact the moon gives us a shared vantage point. In just a few days as we are standing on different grounds, looking from different angles, we can both sing “I see the moon and the moon sees me. God bless the moon and God bless me.” I like that thought.

If you are interested in moon gazing, this link provides a 12 month chart of the phases.

http://www.calendar-12.com/moon_phases/2016

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