Who!

Early April’s snow showers have given way to dry, cool, sunny days and frosty nights. And dry is not what the vegetation is used to here. The last time April was this dry, which was a couple of years ago, we were in for a summer of tree-killing drought. So yesterday morning saw me haul out the garden hose and start watering all the new shoots that the finally longer days are encouraging out of the ground.

When I was out front, in the half of the yard that neighbors the alpaca pen that holds the more massive and aggressive (at least to younger, smaller alpacas) male alpacas when I heard the blackbird. Worm dangling from his beak like he’d been on his way to feed a chick, he was going ballistic, making his chattering warning call and swooping here and there about the garden. And I took it personally! Aside from accidentally spraying the occasional fledgling with a bit of water, I’m no danger to any little baby bird hiding in the garden, waiting to be fed. But after a bit, I realized that this was not about me. And it was not about our neighbor who was out shoveling alpaca poop into a wheelbarrow. And it wasn’t about the alpacas either. Because from somewhere in our huge fir tree I heard a WHO. And then a second later, another WHO. And so on.

It took forever for me to spot it (with help from our neighbor, who spotted it long before I did and nearly died of frustration pointing it out to me, only for me to not see and not see it and not see it). A long-eared owl, just sitting there on a branch, trying to get some sleep. He was there the whole day long. And the whole day long, he was bombarded by blackbirds, robins, chaffinches, and who knows what else. I felt sorry for the poor owl, hated and harassed wherever he went and never able to really get any rest. But, of course, if he didn’t spend nights eating everybody, this would not happen. Anyway, he was a beautiful bird.

The whole rest of the day was devoted to yardwork. There is so much to weed now that everything is exploding to life! And I’m still trying to get the vegetable beds set up for planting green beans, potatoes, kale, beets, radishes, and all sorts of other stuff once it stops being so darned frosty at night. And , turning over the bed that will hold sugar peas, broccoli, and zucchini, I found it was laced thick with white roots that needed to be removed. I hauled out about half a cubic meter’s worth but feel like all I’ve managed to do, by breaking each root into several pieces and undoubtedly leaving most of them behind, is turn 100 plants into at least 1,000. Bindweed, apparently. A major bummer.

So, yes, every year the garden brings me a new enemy, even though I have never quite managed to vanquish any of the ones from previous years. Every year, a new weed pops up and I think oh, that looks harmless and I bet it will have a pretty flower or it will turn out to be so endangered they’ll give me a Nobel Prize for rediscovering it. Then I inevitably find that it’s not one of those plants you want, you know, the ones that are pretty or useful and that you so much as say one bad word to and they shrivel up and die, but one of the ones you give an inch to and you’ll never be rid of it.

Year 1 it was columbines, which do make a pretty flower, but spread insatiably and choke every bed they get into (except the ones with… ground elder). So, yeah, Year 2 it was ground elder, which keeps comes up in new areas faster than I am managing to keep it at a dull roar in older ones. It makes a horrible, impossible to eradicate network of white roots just like bindweed does. Year 3 was all about a tall, flowering weed whose name I have forgotten, but which attracts elephant hawkmoth caterpillars, which are gigantic (and turn into these really cool, gigantic moths), but, alas, also spreads like wildfire, choking everyone else out. Year 4 was broad-leafed dock, which struck me as being the wild version of garden sorrel (sort of, I guess), but which I never got around to eating and now have thousands of, all connected together via very stubborn roots that I am finding, surprise, surprise, impossible to eradicate from one of my vegetable beds. I live in sheer terror that one of these years, some passing bird will pass a Japanese knotweed seed and we’ll be up to our noses in the stuff before I realize what it is.

But the happy news is that the bird flu is finally gone from our local area and, after 6 months, I was able to let the chickens back out before they went so crazy they started eating each other (it was a close call). The other close call is that my hands are already so wrecked from the garden work, I had to sand them down yesterday, so cracked and rough was the outer layer of skin. It wasn’t clear to me who would prevail, my hands or the diamond sandpaper, but, phew, the sandpaper lasted longer and now, for the moment at least, I have nicely oiled palms as soft as the bottom of a baby.



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