On these hot days, as we wait for rain, haunt the news reports of fires and evacuations (my brother in the Nazko Valley, waiting…), I like the mornings best. There’s still a cool thread in the air, still a memory of dew. I try to do my outdoor chores by 11 or so because otherwise it’s too warm to be out in the sun. This morning, I thought of Billy Collins and his poem about morning:
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
I tried to make a record of as many moments as I could. The dragonfly on the tip of a sweet-pea cane:
My husband coming out of the garden with an armload of garlic:
And a pile of the beautiful white Italian garlic already gathered:
And always the lilies, full and buoyant in sunlight:
We’ve been swimming around 8, before the sun even comes over the mountain, and the lake is green and still. This morning we looked at all the tracks leading to the water’s edge: small prints of raccoons, many crows, ducks coming in and out of the water, and then the heavy tracks of elk. Of course! The creeks up the mountain must be dry and the local herd comes down to drink after the swimmers have all gone home. Do they enter the lake and stand up to their bellies in cool water? Do they swim by moonlight and in the light of those many-pointed stars? I wonder.
For dinner tonight? Something with that fresh garlic. And for dessert? John’s out picking raspberries now, the last of the crimson Willamettes, sweet with sunlight. And look who else is waiting for rain!
Commonplace, from the Latin locus communis and the Greek tópos koinós
I spend a lot of time thinking about what is common to a particular place and how to gather these elements, how to commemorate them (somehow: in language, mostly, but increasingly in textiles, in hoards that resemble the nests of inquisitve birds or pack-rats). I used to keep an actual commonplace book but the habit fell away and I’m not sure I could devote myself to the practice again; my days are often completed filled with, well, the dailiness of my life. Yet I love to discover my old books in the drawer of my desk and read through them, amused or appalled what I chose to note down. Nothing quite as lovely as this passage from Virginia Woolf’s “Hours in A Library”: “[L]et us take down one of those old notebooks which we have all, at one time or another, had a passion for beginning. Most of the pages are blank, it is true; but at the beginning we shall find a certain number very beautifully covered with a strikingly legible hand-writing…”
Just now I took a little walk around the garden and realized how there were small things I wanted to record. The poppies I saw burst into bloom yesterday —
— one snake of the two I saw mating earlier by the garlic bed:
and a tree frog in an empty pot:
I spent a few minutes smelling the roses in what I call the “rose garden” but which is really a collection of potted roses on the upper deck (out of range of deer):
Then I paused to admire the progress John is making with the trellis/gate he’s building at the entrance of the vegetable garden (I requested this because the deer fence is so severe; I wanted something a bit more whimsical!):
And into the vegetable garden itself to think about picking lettuce for dinner:
and maybe some of the great peppery perennial arugula to spice it up:
Well, it’s quiet here — apart from roosters down by the lake — but not still. When you take the time to see what’s going on, it’s astonishing. We were just having coffee on the deck off our second-storey bedroom and we saw the mason bee we’d noticed yesterday. There’s a tiny hole in the siding and yesterday the bee was going in and out of it. Today it was just hovering around the entrance. When it left, and I looked closer, I saw that the hole has been filled in with mud. I got out the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders to try to figure out what was going on. I learned that the female mason bee constructs small nest cells of clay which she provisions with pollen and nectar before laying a single egg. And then I read this, which is as much of a found poem as anything: “Some species include plant fragments in their nest construction. Others build inside empty snail-shells, and still others line each nest with snips of flower petals.”
There are also a lot of mud-daubers around right now, looking for ideal locations for their nests. Here’s one building just outside the bathroom window:
In the notes on mud-daubers, I discover more interesting drama that happens without us even noticing:”Using its mandibles, female shapes small masses of moist mud into balls and makes joined tubular cells. Into each cell female stuffs 1 paralyzed spider, immobilized by venom, then lays 1 egg on spider and closes cell with mud.”
And speaking of drama (though in quite a minor key), I saw a snake yesterday rush up to an area below a little Japanese maple, its mouth stuffed full. It appeared agitated and after shoving its face into the moss, it lifted its head, mouth now empty, and began the process of trying to get its jaw back into position. (Garter snakes can unhinge their jaws while eating large prey.) Because I was there, it moved away a little and rested its head on a small stone, opening and closing its mouth, like a cat yawning. (I could see inside its mouth and it was red!) I poked around in the moss and saw that the thing it had been carrying was a huge slug. I thought I would help by tossing the slug to where the snake had by now eased its jaw back into place. But instead of taking the slug, it returned to the moss and began to plunge its head down, looking for its dinner. Here’s the snake this morning, in the same area. I never knew they cached food.
Because we are anticipating our first grandchild in July, I said to John, “Won’t it be wonderful to show small children these things?” To which he rolled his eyes and made texting motions with his fingers. (We don’t own a cell phone which is why I have a huge reference library of field guides to use instead of looking up mason bee behaviour on a smart phone.) But honestly I can’t imagine a child not wanting to watch a snake dislocate its jaw and yawn like a cat or fail to be delighted at this tree frog taking the sun on a May morning:
“He told her that he had been enchanted by a spiteful fairy, who had changed him into a frog; and that he had been fated so to abide till some princess should take him out of the spring, and let him eat from her plate, and sleep upon her bed for three nights.”
Last night, just before bed, John saw a huge bull elk standing by our vegetable garden. Our camera would’t work so you will have to imagine this: Cervus elaphus (ssp. roosevelti), golden brown, with a dark throat, holding the moon in his antlers. We scared him away — you don’t want these guys eating your trees, though he’d already devoured part of an ornamental cherry tree — and heard him crashing through the woods with his harem of cows and their calves behind him. This morning I found his beautiful prints in the damp grass.
And here’s another god of the trees and vines (and in this case parsley):