“Two Mangy Apple Trees and a Lot of Love” – my opinion essay in the August 26, 2018 Baltimore Sun–

Four years ago, Tree Guy came out to give us an estimate for gypsy moth spraying. As long as you’re here, I said, take a look at these apple trees and tell me what you think.

The two small trees were decades old. The summer cottage’s previous owners who planted them had passed on years ago, and a series of residents and renters neglected the property. …

Read the rest here, in today’s Baltimore Sun online.apples 2018

December 1: Sunset 4:10 PM

It’s oddly warm. We strip the garden,
pull down three-foot-high blackened marigolds,
cleome, borage, yank out bamboo stakes.
The young arugula we planted weeks ago is
ready for harvest, the lily leaves slimy, brown.
Mole tunnels run under the sandy soil
in the mulch-covered plot by the fenced-in garden.
By three the sun is low, a glare in our faces.
We work against the clock, against the moment
when the sun will drop behind the trees, the sky
will be streaked with a narrow line of pink-orange.
The cottage is cold, the water shut off.
The detritus of last summer’s glorious blooms
lies in a pile. We weight the mess with fallen branches.
There’s no time to rest, put our feet up, imagine
what this will all look like, come spring.
Now everything must sleep the sleep of winter,
must die, and must— we hope— come back to life.
But first, the death of the garden, dormant, cold
shadowed by our uncertainty, our fears
that this short day is all we have, and own.

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Homage to Spring If It Ever Gets Here Really

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The tulips and daffodils—the brave ones not damaged by a sub-freezing snap they suffered a few weeks ago—are in full bloom, in a cold daylong rain. Even the second-year tulips, from bulbs I bought at a discount hardware store, are shouting with color.The columbine ‘s foliage is appearing, and the bee balm, until now just dead sticks in the ground leftover from the past summer, are producing small green leaves lined with burgundy veins.

Still, it feels more like February than late April, and we still sleep under the automatic blanket and a down comforter. We haven’t pulled the tempered glass table top out of storage, so the old wrought iron table on the deck sits there looking like a weather-beaten objet d’art.

Downed branches snapped off by  last month’s high winds, dandelions shooting up in the lawn along with lumps of crabgrass, tender shoots of clematis –these things are ample evidence that spring may be approaching, even if we still wear our down jackets, hats and gloves—and maybe even thermal underwear under our jeans— to Fenway for a night game.

I found a rabbit’s nest in the garden nearest our bedroom: at first I took it for a bird’s nest that might have plummeted from the tall arbor vitae nearby the row of nine-foot trees my neighbor calls “the bird hotel.”  But the layer of soft fuzzy hair, patched with dried grass and small twigs, were no bird’s nest, but a circular furry quilt over a hole dug between a speedwell and a blanket flower. Once I had touched the cover the doe had woven to protect her babies, I realized I had sullied it, and I might as well pitch it into the compost, because my human scent was all over the place. I left hoping it was too cold for bunnies.

The ice cream stand at the other end of town has been open for weeks now, but when I drove by two weeks ago, no lines formed at the outside window.

I’ve tried to store my winter coats twice, only to pull them out from the upstairs closet full of cedar blocks to keep the moths away. I look at the snow shovels and the ice melt in the garage with a jaundiced eye.

Even in the cold April morning, the birds start their song before dawn, and the chipmunks dash in and out of the garden’s stone wall. We’ll know spring is here for sure when the compost starts steaming and cooking in the covered bins at the very back of the yard, when we can sit outside and have our morning coffee before hustling off to start the work day.  Tonight, it’s 38, but we hope not for long.

I can’t wait to file down the nasturtium seeds with an emery board and plant them in the big terra cotta pots

 

New Year’s Day: Toward the Unknown

 

The year’s doors open
like those of language,
toward the unknown.
                                        ~ January First, Octavio Paz, trans. Elizabeth Bishop

 

This part of Cape Cod, past the elbow–but before the wrist joint—has yet to see a hard frost this winter. The arugula in our garden is green and edible, though most of it has bolted and  white flowers dot the tops of each green plant. Two intrepid calendula (pot marigold) bloom in the center of the garden—I find a tiny slug chewing away at one slender petal, flick him off, and bring the blooms inside to grace the dinner table. Leathery oak leaves the size of dinner plates line the crushed stone driveway and cluster around the stems of dead perennials: coreopsis, gaillardia,echinacea, rudbeckia. The pink heather blooms profusely on the hill behind the cottage. The calendar insists it’s early winter, but it looks more like early autumn on this  oddly warm year in new England. Continue reading “New Year’s Day: Toward the Unknown”

Shine On, Shine on, Harvest Moon, Supermoon, Blood Moon*

2015 pumpkin_0451The garden that was slow to produce this year has yielded two dozen juicy heads of garlic, many pole beans, two waves of tomatoes, endless basil and arugula, a steady supply of lettuce, 6 wizened bell peppers, three hot peppers, and a disappointing enormous vine with huge yellow flowers but blossom end-rot. The prize goes to the lone pumpkin, which appeared as a softball sized orb about two weeks ago, and by the time I cut it ten days later, it was enormous, at least by this gardener’s standards. Continue reading “Shine On, Shine on, Harvest Moon, Supermoon, Blood Moon*”

Dry Days in the Garden

imgresWhile the Cape Cod garden has been benefitting from daily watering by means of the irrigation hoses in the vegetable patch and hand watering for the flowers and herbs in terra cotta pots, the home garden has been enduring days without a steady rain. The perennials are putting up a brave front, but the hostas look bedraggled, with yellow or brown leaves appearing around the edges. The day lilies’ leaves are yellowing or browning as well, and the monarda leaves droop– and their blooms don’t last very long. Continue reading “Dry Days in the Garden”

Primavera, una fatina: Vernal Equinox Blues, 2015

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Spring break for my college began three days ago. In this part of the world, the vernal equinox officially happened yesterday at 6:45 PM. Last night, another inch of snow, perhaps more, fell, freshening up the grey ragged piles of the stuff left over from February’s blizzards. Daffodils’ green shoots have appeared in the small garden that runs along the cement retaining wall in front of the house. The tall Norway pines branches are dusted with white–again.

One of our snow shovels is stuck fast in an ice pile on the deck. Leggy rose bushes, buddleia and spirea are calling me to prune their splayed branches. I have no idea where I’ve stashed my pruning shears, and one of my work gloves is missing. Black plastic trash bags stuffed with miscanthus clippings last November are still buried under the snow, around the back of the house near the arbor vitae. I see the yellow plastic drawstrings peeking out from the snow pile. If the snow ever melts, I will transfer the detritus from plastic to paper bags and put them out on the curb for the recycling truck.

Five or six large dry branches fell during the winter’s storms, so when the snow melts, we’ll make a burn pile and secure a permit to have a little fire before the rock garden comes alive with perennials. We’ll rake up the accumulated piles of sunflower hulls and scat under the bird feeder.

Today we’re feeling trapped inside, reading the news of two ongoing trials in Boston, pondering why our hockey team has been faring so poorly of late–and looking forward to attending a Red Sox home game in April. Today might look and feel like winter, but we’re more than ready to store our wool caps and gloves, and retrieve our baseballs caps from the back of the closet.

A memory from many years ago leaps to mind, a sunny Tuesday afternoon at Mrs. Clement’s kitchen table. It was a warm Baltimore spring. Our Italian grammar books and literature readers were spread out on the table next to half-cups of tea and a large plate that was nearly empty of cookies. On Tuesdays we had Italian lessons after school, and our homework for that day was to memorize a poem, Primavera. One by one, each of us four recited the lines, stumbling here and there. Mrs. Clement gently corrected us, helping us through the exercise. Primavera, una fatina

And now, I think to myself, Primavera, dove sei?