I don’t remember summer ever being this long, even when I was a kid. Summers in Australia are long but we only ever had a month or so off from school over the Christmas holidays, so ‘summer’ really only lasted six weeks. Here, in the U.S., ‘summer’ as defined by the school break is usually around two and a half months long.
This year we’ve been doing summer since late March, and for the past two weeks, I’ve been craving the crisp air of autumn, the scent of falling leaves and woodsmoke, hoodies, and all things pumpkin. But August still has a week to go—and it’s nearly 90 out there today. I’m wearing shorts and flipflops.
To be fair, I was probably wearing shorts and flipflops on August 24th last year. I do seem to remember complaining about leaves already turning yellow, though. Saying something like, “I’m not ready.”
I try to spend at least an hour a day in the garden. It’s good for my daughter and it’s good for me. I’m sure it’s good for the garden too. As soon as the spring sun peeps from behind the last winter cloud, I don my sturdy boots and stiff new gloves and set to work pulling out all those weeds I was able to ignore when snow or leaves covered the ground.
When I lived in Texas, I battled with more than weeds. The previous year’s vegetable patch often continued to enjoy success in the form of tomato and cucumber seedlings popping up in the most unexpected places—usually the middle of the lawn. Often, I mused that if we went away for a month, we would return to find a tangle of cucumber vines covering the lawn, robust tomato plants poking up between. Sometimes, instead of plucking them out, I just mowed them down, curious to see if they would shoot back up by the end of the week. They did.
You know what someone needs to invent? Grass that grows to a certain length and then stops to provide a lawn of perfectly trimmed and perfectly green beauty. I’d buy it.
Not that I hate mowing; I don’t, not really. That hour twice a week (one hour out front and another for the curb, side yard and back) is when I do a lot of my thinking. Sometimes I listen to audio books, which has the odd effect of assigning locational memory to portions of the yard. Elizabeth Bear owns the playground. The tower and swings bring to mind Undertow, Carnival and Dust. The underside of my deck, framed by pillars, belong to Michael Swanwick. The lions from The Dragons of Babel dwell under there. Will sometimes flies over the lawn, directly over Elizabeth Bear’s territory. The slope from the playground to the forest is Stross territory. All of the singularity books have rolled down there. The strip by the creek is Halting State and part of the driveway belongs to Rule 34.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I listen to a lot of books while mowing the lawn and they’re mostly speculative—which is my approach to gardening, as well. As posted last fall, I’m what I call a Darwinian gardener. It’s all about what survives me and the elements. I’m not sure which is more harsh. Probably me. But my garden does survive from year to year and it does bring me a lot of joy.
Early this spring, it resembled a graveyard. Lumps of dirt with twiggy bushes that could be homemade crosses or tumbleweeds blown up from Texas. It was a harsh winter. I actually wondered if Mother Nature had out done me and decimated my garden. Turned it into the post-apocalyptic environment I so often read about. It’s fun in fiction—not so much outside my front door. As an aside, when I mentioned my perfect lawn idea to Husband, he told me that that’s how the zombie apocalypse would get started—with the invention of a product that halted lawn growth. Apparently that would get into our water supply and tamper with our brains.
Anyway, as the days warmed, green things popped out of the soil and my garden stirred to life again. I was amazed. Now that my irises and lilies are actually blooming, I’m properly stunned.
I did go in and trim everything back. I dutifully weeded and I finally dug out the Mums that should have been dug out last year, sparse and woody things they’d become. So I have a couple of bare patches that need to be filled—with something other than another split lily or iris. I’m thinking daisies. Daisy bushes are lovely and big and the flowers very pretty. But I don’t know if they’ll survive the winter. I could look it up. I could research a plant that lives from year to year, but then I wouldn’t have the fun of digging out a dead carcass next spring.
Yeah, I did say fun.
Back to the lawn. It’s been raining on and off for close to a month now and the grass that looked dead at the beginning of April, no matter how many stories tracked through, is now so lush and green, I’ve been walking around with my nose in the air. Who has the prettiest lawn on the street? I do. Absolutely. I also have to mow it more often, though, as it won’t look pretty for long if I neglect it.
Behind the house I have a herb garden. There is a carpet of cilantro across the patch at the moment. It’s a good thing we like cilantro. The thyme and oregano are well enough established that the newcomer has grown around them. And in the middle I have a hibiscus bush that is taller than I am. We planted that on a whim a couple of years ago and the thing won’t die. Not that I want it to? But it just seems so out of place in my northern yard. I am looking forward to it flowering. Under that I have a blueberry bush that produces one berry a year. I’ll try and get a picture of this year’s prize fruit.
Up on the deck we have our tomatoes and peppers in. I fenced them before the cats decided I have set up outdoor litter trays. Now I just have to remember to remind my daughter to water them regularly. We both tend to forget. We do get fruit, and quite a lot of it, but tomatoes that aren’t watered regularly tend to be ugly things. Striped and split.
And that’s my gardening report (ramble) for this spring. I’ll leave you with this picture (below) I found yesterday which inspired my imagination. I have two creeks in my yard, one at the edge of the forest and one at the edge of the property. None of them are as pretty or mysterious as this one. This one is all secret and I want to write a story about what’s going on in this crack in the earth. Maybe I’ll plot that one out next time I mow the lawn.
We went apple picking on the weekend. It was one of those magical fall days where the sun is warm, the shade cool. Here, in North East Pennsylvania, the colours are approaching their peak, meaning there is plenty of green in between vivid yellows and reds, which makes for a lovely contrast.
The apples played hide and seek with us, invisible behind thick clusters of green leaves until we passed by. Then a flash of red or yellow would catch our eye. Upon turning around, we would wonder how we had missed so many apples.
When we got home, we wondered why we had picked so many apples.
I ate three; they taste amazing right off the tree, all warm from the sun and free of any polishing wax. A dust off and they’re ready to eat. But, what to do with the other sixty?
My husband made a pie. Much to my annoyance, I was not allowed to eat any of it on Sunday night. It had to cool, he said. Set or something. It’s sitting on the counter now, calling to me—crust all golden and pushed up at the centre because there are so many apples hidden inside. I’ll get a slice tonight, or he will be finding somewhere else to live.
I do not read instruction manuals. Well, I do, as an absolute last resort, after I have pushed every button and combination of keys, turned it on and off, arranged all the pieces five different ways, or failed to find a place for the last screw. Sometimes it’s a spare, sometimes it’s not. I have built a piece of kit furniture and wondered how I got so far with a piece obviously missing, something I’d have noticed if I counted the number of bits in the box, as instructed to do by the manual. I have complained for two days that my new headset doesn’t work, only to find it is set to mute. I have reached the end of a game only to find that if I had actually read the quest notes, I might have turned in those five mysterious eggs in exchange for an awesome weapon/talent/game-changing magic button that would skip that last, frustratingly difficult fight that was designed to challenge dedicated gamers a quarter my age with four times my reflexes.
I use chairs as ladders and reach beyond the reach of actual ladders. I have hung from cabinets, gutters and rooves. I have operated machinery without knowing all the functions, compromising when the thing won’t do the thing I need it to do, only to find it will do that if I push the button over there. Not a week passes without me burning my hands because reaching into the toaster oven with my bare hands is faster than turning around to get the gloves. Flipping something in a frying pan with my fingers is quicker than searching the drawer for the tongs, then fighting with the locking mechanism at the bottom of the handle.
I could go on and on (and on) and you might either wonder how I reached my forty-fifth birthday completely intact, or you might be nodding and grinning, quietly commiserating and congratulating. “I do that. Yep, I do that, too. You managed that?”
On a scale of one to ten, my stupidity is relatively low—either that, or my luck quotient is really high. I am not a statistic, yet. I have not received my posthumous Darwin Award. And I do learn from my mistakes. Sometimes.