Forging Friendship and Finch Fights

November 11, 2010

A meeting cancelled unexpectedly gives me a window in the early afternoon to enjoy the 70 degree weather – on November 11.

This is beyond weird. What has happened to weeks of cold and rain and sleet? Where is the miserable “nothing is good about November” kind of feeling that Jo March and her sisters discussed? Most of all for me, I worry about where the rain could be. While we are warm and temperate, lifting arms to soak in the sun, never knowing if this warm spell will be the last, we are also dry as a bone.

The grasses rustle and crackle, lifting into the blue sky. I stand in the midst of three clumps and look up. This is what Native Americans saw hundreds of years ago, this kind of thing was their surroundings. The contrast of the cream and blue is so stunning. I could look at it for hours, waving in the wind, in a pattern that has just enough variety to keep it interesting.

The wrens that live in the clematis are noisy and busy. They chatter, poke heads out, disappear back inside the vine. When I approach to make photographs of the drying flowers, they quiet, pretending to be invisible. The seed heads are adorable, another leap into Seussian territory. They cover the vine in white fuzz, perky and bright. I think of Whos down in Whoville, on dustspecks, tended by compassionate elephants. All these seed heads look like Who heads.

Ladybugs are in the air, on the brick, in the sunshine. We will start seeing them in the house soon, creeping through crevices and showing up along windowsills. I brush the leaves from the hammock and swing for a minute, soaking in the sun like a daffodil.

There are goldfinches arguing over the thistle seed. There is one in particular, apparently the Alpha Finch, that has staked out the hole Clarence made and chirps loudly and angrily at the others. Those others take off  in a burst of ticked-off feathers to settle in nearby bushes and in the low branches of the pin oak and squawk and beep about their fate. The unkindness of this alpha finch cuts deeply into their hearts. Just minutes later, a brave soul lands on the opposite side of the feeder, higher up, hoping to escape notice. He twists himself upside down to work a seed out of the sock, all the while keeping an eye on the tough guy. He passes inspection and is allowed to stay. He keeps pulling out those seeds and the other finches in the yard get louder and louder, probably shouting “Who does THIS guy think he is?”

A junco, those birds rubbed in charcoal and talcum powder, camps out under the feeder and picks up leftover seed, happy for Alpha Finch’s messy eating habits.

Invisible Neighbor visited on Monday while I was gone, to tell us that she found bushes at a nursery for a 90% discount. When I ask Tony the name of the nursery, he says, “I think Franks, maybe.” As Franks has been closed in this area for years – and years – I think not. She left behind the tag of the shrubs, which I now cannot find in the detritus that is the top of my desk. I remember it being “flowering shrub” with not much other information. I see them sitting on her patio now. The yard is marked with orange and red and yellow spray paint, she has had JULIE visit to confirm where she should dig. Her former husband strongly advised that we call JULIE years ago, when we were sinking the draintile that ran from our gutters to the storm sewer. (And of course we did) They are a JULIE kind of family, I guess.

For over 10 years, I have barely seen this woman and suddenly, she is a part of my life in the garden. Maybe it’s the fact that she is now alone, maybe it’s because my vegetable garden is in full view of her kitchen window where, she tells me, she sits and watches the birds and squirrels. Maybe it’s just good cosmic energy for us at last. Time and life has now brought us to this place together.

I begin to think about life cycles, about the natural time frame of birth and growth and death. This weather is amazing. Beyond an occasional cold snap, it is still summer. Yet the flowers dry, the leaves wither, the plants brown. They have their own predetermined cycle – they know when it’s time to go. I wonder though, with this longer stretch of sunshine, with the warm days, all those perennials are converting all that carbon dioxide into sugar, into energy, getting supercharged for the winter.

Will the show be more amazing than ever next year? Will Invisible Neighbor come over for a glass of wine on the patio?

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