Friday, September 18, 2009

Descendant of a Friend

This week I was mowing and startled a praying mantis that was hunting in the high grass around one of my infant raspberry bushes. He fell all over himself trying to get away, so I passed quickly by to keep the terror to a minimum. Here’s a picture of one I found on the highly amusing garden blog wisdom-of-the-trowel.

I wonder if this mantid is descended from the one who used to sit in the driveway on summer afternoons a few years ago. He and I became closely acquainted; he stars in this poem that appeared in the garden-themed tangle, a limited edition artist book I made with the photographer Michael Poster as part of our 2008 series Ready to Fold.

Mantis at Prayer

Reverently he says grace
before the meal to come,
yet takes the time
to cock his head
to the hundred copies of
my face that fill his eyes.

Is it love? Neither wants
to look away.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

If You Fill It, They Will Come

I have a little frog pond garden right off my office porch, featuring a 50-gallon Rubbermaid stock tank sunk into the earth and filled with some big rocks, a bunch of leaves, some rain water and 23 frogs. There used to be a miniature pink water lily in there, too, but it’s too shaded for the lily to be happy, so I moved that into a galvanized bucket on the front steps, where it gets full sun and actually made a tiny little pink lily flower this summer. Two frogs have moved into that bucket too.

I got the idea for the frog pond several years ago when the children abandoned their blow-up castle swimming pool after a few short weeks of playing The Siege Of Harfleur In Bathing Suits. I didn’t dismantle it in a timely way, and it turned green, and then when I was going to dismantle it because it was green and gross and an eyesore, it turned out to have numerous small frogs in it. At the end of the summer, we collected them all in mason jars and took them to the closest pond, half a mile away. But the next summer, when we dug the hole and inserted the stock tank, it filled right back up with frogs, and not all the same kind, either. The largest one is now more than 3 inches long, which I assume means he or she is an old-timer.

We continued to take them out every fall and carry them down to the pond to sink into the mud for the winter, but then we got a stock tank de-icer, which is a floating heater coil that I run on an extension cord out the basement window. It costs a few bucks a year to keep a little circle of open water in the center of the pond (which you have to have or your frogs will suffocate) but it beats sticking your arms into icy water all afternoon one day in late October, and then never being sure if you got everybody, or if someone is under a rock, resisting salvation. Plus other animals come and drink at the pond on winter nights, which you can tell by the footprints in the snow the next day.

I do wonder how the frogs find new water that is so far from the old water, and whether at night in the springtime, the world is secretly covered with frogs, walking everywhere in search of their new world.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blackberries & Goldenrod: Must Be September

Life here is as season-specific as the border of a Tasha Tudor drawing. These days we are awash in the wild blackberries known locally as black caps; the old pastures are full of goldenrod in full bloom; and asters are flowering everywhere, in every shade between white and dark purple. There is a white kind that grows in the shade of the hedgerow along the driveway, and the really stunning big purple ones that appear by the ones or twos in lucky ditches around the county. To my mind there is no garden in the world more beautiful than a disused Pennsylvania pasture in September.

The trees are unusually lush still, thanks to the endless rains of this summer, but the light has turned to the sheer gold of autumn. John mowed some access trails to the blackberry islands so we don’t have to wade through chest-deep goldenrod to get the berries; the children picked enough for a pie one day before school began. It’s getting to where I remember when things happened by what we were eating at the time: long after I am unable to retrieve my children’s birth dates from the archives, I will still remember eating peaches while I nursed my daughter the day after she was born, and the sight of my son, just before he learned to run, bear-walking on 3 limbs down the rows at a u-pick raspberry patch, the other hand busily stuffing his mouth with the squishy red fruits.