Betraying the Birds

October 9, 2010

I left for Menards to buy Round-Up, tomato stakes and a new toilet seat, under the impression that Tony was going to just sweep out the garage. When I pulled into the cul-de-sac, I thought he was having an impromptu garage sale.

Everything was scattered on the lawn and the driveway – empty shelves inside the garage. He made a pile for me inside the wheelbarrow, all the buckets and bags and pots that I’ve accumulated over the year. All this cleaning inspired me, and as I was perusing the tool caddies at Menards and not finding anything appropriate, I decide to reevaluate my canvas garden bag too. I dumped everything out onto the driveway. Not only did I find tools I use every time I’m in the garden, but I also found the wrench that I use about every three years to replace sprinkler heads, bubblers for the pond fountains and a bar of soap.

The gardening cabinet on the garage wall was opened and everything removed, with Tony making some crabby noises about how now I was in the way of his cleaning and reorganizing. I found Monty’s Joy Juice, a small sample bottle I got at Sid’s at least three years ago, from Monty himself. I pulled off the plug and sprinkled it all over the front beds, drop by drop. Monty was about 90 years old when I met him, tall and thin, dry and rivered hands passing me a bottle of the “best fertilizer” on earth with so much enthusiasm for his product that his excitement carried into the people around him, including me. I have always been afraid to really use it, as he mentioned it might attract Damn Rabbits. This year, with the brilliant (as such) success of the milorganite, I have a little more confidence and a little sentiment – I wonder if Monty is still alive and kicking, growing those roses he talked about?

I found a bag of tree feeding stakes. They look like tent stakes, but they are compressed fertilizer to be hammered into the ground all along the drip lines. I remember buying them, and I remember pounding some in, but I don’t remember which trees. Now that I have all those new evergreens growing like mad in the Neither Here Nor There bed, I distributed them on top of the mulch, not close to the trunks, at the top of the water flow. I didn’t hammer them in, but am banking on the rain and melting snow and rain and snow again to create a slow steady stream of nutrients over the next year or so. The Liquid Fence – years old now and extremely pungent – was sprinkled on top of the recently planted hostas. I found a new thistle seed sock, so I threw out the two old ones, both ripped by beaks or squirrel teeth, filled the new one with fresh seed and hung it up.

I organized all the sprinkler pieces into its own container, cleaned all the plants tags out of the cabinet and put them in my binder. And watched them fall all over the garage floor – more than once. When I went into the attic to get the basket filled with pond stuff, I noticed that it is again in disarray. What are these people doing in this damn attic? Tony’s head popped through the floor (our garage attic has pull-down stairs that for some reason remind me of the Munsters – I love it) and certain rather curt comments were made about shiny pennies and a lack of focus – really, how rude. And, regrettably, accurate.

With the gardening cabinet cleaned, I rinsed out the smaller of the white buckets and put in my everyday tools. Much handier and cleaner now, easy to drag around and easier to find things. The canvas bag, slouching and very gritty, went into recycling along with the plastic nursery pots. The good pots were stacked and placed on top of the cabinet with chicken wire rolled beside them.

We moved the table and chairs into the garage, moved the folding chairs into the attic. We left the old black chair and the little plastic tables on the patio to give us a place to perch when the weather allows.

The weather was fully cooperating; warm and sunny and oh-such-a-taste-of-midsummer. I disconnected and pulled up the soaker hose in the shade bed, saving the stakes. I rolled up the hose into a neat bundle and hung it on the moose’s antlers. I collected the plastic bunnies, the fairies, the blue fish, the frogs, the gazing ball and the tiles, putting them all into the green milk crate. I folded up my grandpa’s step ladder – everything ready for the attic.

And then it was the moment – the moment that defines the end of summer for us – I reached down and turned off the electricity that powers the pond pumps.

Within seconds – silence. I unplugged all the pumps and first pulled the turtle out, laying him on the patio. The gurgler came next, in a mass of algae and weeds. Lastly, I disconnected the hose from the top of the waterfall pump and pulled that out too. Everything on the patio, dripping slowly. I cut down all the cattails, down into the water. By this time, the goldfish were in a panic. What the hell was happening to their little world? And what are these things dipping into the water? The cattail leaves were folded and put into the compost bin (No sign of Francine or Clarence). I cut down the hostas, the spryia and the eupatorium along the pond edge.

The shiny penny called and I moved sedum from the berm into the front beds and trimmed the weglia on the berm into a neater, smaller shape, hopefully encouraging more branching. I cut down woody weeds all around the pond and then gave those cuts a good dose of weed-b-gone (Menards was all out of Round Up). Because I was thinking of invasive plants at that point, I went to the butterfly bed and did the same with those plants – cut them down and sprayed the stems. I started spraying the bigger sticker bushes in the Miserable Lawn Care area, then sprayed the dandelions, then realized I was spraying virtually everything. SIGH. I watered the compost from the rain barrels.

Finally, I took the plastic from the bird netting – which had been sitting in our kitchen in a huge cardboard box all week – and tried to figure out exactly how to deal with it, as it’s folded in fourths. Just unrolling it hasn’t worked out, as we’re then overwhelmed with a cloud of netting drifting in the breeze and catching on every stem and leaf in the garden – a real mess. I sat and considered the lay of the pond and tried to decide what was the middle of the net. After determining a strategy, I staked down the middle of the net at the middle of the end of the pond. I slowly unrolled the net then, unfolding and staking as I went, moving from side to side of the pond. It felt so grid-like, moving in that regular pattern, that is was soothing both for my mind and my spirit.

Patterns are good things – they are predictable and comforting and strong. Patterns mean little change and little change means little chaos and chaos, big or little, is never a positive influence.

The fish swam to and fro, inspecting the net that laid on the surface and then darting away. I threaded the netting under the bridge and staked down the other end, resulting in a good portion of the roll left – perfect amount to cover the veggie garden next spring. I cut it off and put it into the attic bin. I put the sprayer on the hose and took apart all the pumps, sprayed and scrubbed them clean and then reassembled them. Everything into the basket and then everything into the attic.

The cluster of pots in the hydrangea bed were swallowed by grasses this year, so I began to move them to a better spot, closer to the lawn, where they would make a nicer visual effect. A wren flew down to the pond and then hovered, like a hummingbird in mid-air, completely confused by the netting everywhere. She couldn’t find a place to land and because the net hadn’t relaxed yet, she couldn’t reach the water. She landed on the top of the now-dry waterfall and then cocked her head this way and that, betrayed. She flew away. A robin followed, landing on the ropes of the bridge, looking here and there and then flying into the oak’s branches. Then I was chastised by loud chattering, an angry noise.

I nearly cried.

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