Letter From My Yard


Mother Nature and all her treasures offer a powerful tool for any observant writer.  You don’t have to go far to find drama, color, and beauty.  I can walk out to my small backyard and observe the quilt of spring and a cast of characters: there is always a play being performed.  You just have to pay attention.

I discovered gardening in 2008 when the stock market crashed.  I couldn’t afford to go anywhere so I started to garden, teaching myself plants and flowers, and discovering the easy pleasure of perennials.  When we bought this house, there were only a lilac and azalea in the yard, the lilac eventually dying.  That was about it.  We let the hedge seed naturally at the bottom of the yard -an easement, a gas line – so the wild fruit trees, privet, and corkscrew willows gave us plenty of privacy.  I eventually added a six foot wooden fence and arbor running down one side and handed the arbor over to trumpet honeysuckle.  That was a good choice though like most arborists, I struggle because one side flourishes and the other, lacking sunshine, limps along.  Lopsided.  Like tennis, gardening can be very humbling.

For years I toiled away, nothing fancy, always sitting on the cement cistern out back or a small plastic stool I moved around as need be.  Or I sat on my deck which gave me a good view of my blooming plums, prairie rose crab apple, crape myrtles, honeysuckle, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon: the list goes on and on.  (Anything I plant in my yard is expected to give a show.  No photosynthetic laziness tolerated.)

This spring when I sat on the deck to admire my handiwork, I realized the acuba had grown so tall I couldn’t see my planters so I bought a bench.  A nice bench, wrought iron – or at least poor man’s wrought iron – Italian curlicues on the back.  Black.  And like me a little over the top.  I couldn’t wait to sit and enjoy cups of coffee, glasses of wine, and moments of quiet contemplation.  The first time I sat on the bench the breeze picked up and the wild cherry above my head showered miniscule white petals all around me, covering me like a fur coat.  God’s silken raindrops.  Charming.

Truth is I really can’t use the bench the way I’d planned.  I may have to move it for the next few months because I’ve realized there are nesting cardinals in the hedge and Mr. Cardinal is very upset when I try and enjoy a spell on the bench, particularly when one or two of my cats come to visit.  This morning I snuck out at 6:30 a.m., fetched the white stool out of the shed and sat further away; surely this was enough to respect their privacy.  Nope.  The male didn’t like that either and planted himself a few feet from me and raised Cain so, respectfully, I went back inside.  I returned three hours later, a coffee break, the sun casting a pale milky glaze across my yard – it will be 90 today. Surely, I can sit here for a few minutes; no one will mind.

I was wrong.  The male popped up immediately, carrying something green in his beak, time to feed his wife, so again, I shuffled off.   And I don’t want the female to abandon her nest so it’s not looking good for the time being.  Cardinals are secretive nesters and upset easily.

Well, come on you say.  Move the bench.  Use your noggin.  Well, you’re right.  Except if I move it, I have more of a chance of seeing neighbors drinking coffee or dogs defecating first thing in the morning.  Not exactly my favorite vignettes.

I guess I should have thought about this before I spent $360 on the bench.

This is not the first time I’ve lost to the birds.  Last year my husband gave me beautiful hanging baskets for the front porch (I’ve forgotten what kind).  It’s a Mother’s Day tradition; he hides them in the shed so I know to avoid going out there and spoiling the surprise.  Last year a mother wren laid claim to one basket so I ended up compromising: one for me, one for her, meaning I had a splendid color-popping basket and the other was half dead because I had to quit watering.  And it was a stressful spring because I had to keep the cats indoors a lot to protect the nest, but Mrs. Wren won and far as I could tell all the babies made their first flights.  I found no corpses.

So, last year it was the wrens.  This year it’s Cardinalis cardinalis.  Score 1-0.  Back to my white stool.

I think I need an attorney.


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