Ramblingwoods.com (Michelle) has invited us to find something interesting in nature and post about our impressions. Please visit her site by clicking on the link above or to the side of this post and find links to other bloggers who have joined her Nature Notes meme this week.
We (SAM and I) kept Micah overnight for the first time a couple of weeks ago. His parents spent the night in the cuddy cabin of their boat so they could watch the Blue Angels air show the next day at Pensacola Beach. They figured that watching the show from the water has got to be more comfortable than mingling with thousands of other sweaty bodies on the beach in mid July, and it was. Micah's visit included a trip to a local park situated on a feeder creek for the Blackwater River, and we discovered this unusual looking (ugly?) duck. According to this site, it's a Muscovy duck, and its coloring suggests that it has been domesticated. Its willingness to come so close looking for a handout gave us another clue that it's not wild.
Micah just loves to fish--no hooks allowed just yet--especially with Jap-pah around to lend a hand. Jam-ah did not get a chance to take many pictures. She had one hand on the camera and one hand ready to keep Micah from falling in the water. A passion for fishing runs deep in this family's gene pool. I'm hoping that a passion for gardening does too.
On a recent morning, while listening to the local high school marching band practice nearby, I worked in the vegetable garden and mused about some things. In mid-July, the weeds grow bigger and stronger than just about anything else in the garden. Temps and humidity levels have been slightly more comfortable this past week, making the task of weeding much more bearable. I guess the latest heat wave got the best of me, and I let the hoe sit idle for too long. The weeds have gotten out of hand and run amok among the veggies. Of course, instead of the weather convincing me to take a break, it could have been the spirit of a former neighbor egging me on....
I spent my last two years of primary and first two years of secondary (high) school in a small town in Illinois some 30 miles east of St. Louis. Dad was getting close to retirement from the Air Force and was on his last tour of duty after we had spent four years living in Germany. He wanted a real home--not on base--and a piece of land to call his own and plant with fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables. We settled, for a while, in a fixer-upper with an acre on the edge of town. It was close enough to school so that on nice days I could ride my bike or walk to class. Our closest neighbors, the Ogles, lived directly behind us on the original homestead, which included a several-acre pond surrounded by woods. It was accessed by a dirt road that ran right next to the Ogles' garden spot and close to their house, nearly hidden from view by brambles and untrimmed shrubbery. Mr. Ogle's brother had sold my parents their fixer-upper, and we learned that certain traits ran deep in and throughout that particular gene pool.
Most of the time I enjoyed helping my dad in our garden, except when hay-fever season arrived or when weed-pulling time came around, which was too often for me! The weather always seemed to be hot and sticky when the weeds threatened to take over the garden. Once in a while, Dad would feel sorry for himself and me, and we would grab our fishing rods, not poles--they were equipped with line guides and well-oiled, spin-casting reels--and head to the Ogles' pond, walking by their house to let them know where we were headed and why.
Dad had bought a small row boat so we could fish in style, and I felt honored when he finally let me take the oars and steer a course while he looked for signs of bass activity in the water. There were some whoppers in there, and we usually had success at bringing home some supper after a few hours on the water. Dad even taught me how to filet the fish we caught, telling me it was an important survival skill for a modern girl--a geeky one at that--to learn. Boy was I ever gullible!
On the way home after catching our limit, dictated by Mr. Ogle's scrutiny,--since he had stocked the pond he often referred to the bass as his babies--we would pass by his garden enclosed by a rusty wire fence. Dad would usually shake his head, sigh, and mutter a few choice words under his breath about the property's lack of obvious care. Though Mr. Ogle plowed up the garden each spring and it looked great then when newly planted, by the middle of summer the weeds had taken over, and some of them grew taller than the adolescent me! Apparently, the justification for this return to nature had something to do with the weeds protecting the tender vegetable plants from the scorching summer sun and keeping the soil intact during heavy downpours. Dad did not buy this explanation at all, but I thought it was a brilliant idea at the time. What could be better than not having to weed the garden in the heat of summer? I'm wondering even now if benign neglect isn't such a bad idea, especially since there are so many water management issues facing Floridians, and overpopulation in some areas is stretching the limits of the freshwater resource. After all, the Ogles seemed to harvest just as much or more produce from their overgrown garden spot as we did from our zealously tended one.
There was perhaps one major drawback to the wilderness garden concept--snakes. I did see a few of them occasionally slipping through the Ogles' fence onto my parents' property. From a distance, I don't consider them a nuisance at all. They take care of any animal pests that might chomp on the veggies and don't expect anything in return other than a little respect and a wide berth. These days, though, when I venture into the garden to pick what's left of the vegetables after the bugs and heat have taken their toll, I do take a sharp hoe with me, just in case I meet up with a snake that stands its ground. Saturday afternoon I witnessed one at least five feet long (not a fish tale, this one!) slithering as fast as I can run, across the back yard and into the brush line beyond our property. It was being chased and pecked at by a pair of mockingbirds which have a nest somewhere in one of my shrubs. I was amused and shocked at the same time. How could a five-foot snake in the garden escape my notice? It hid among the weeds and neglect.
"Consider the intimate and curious acquaintance one makes with various kinds of weeds,--it will bear some iteration in the account, for there was no little iteration in the labor,--disturbing their delicate organizations so ruthlessly, and making such invidious distinction with his hoe, levelling whole ranks of one species, and sedulously cultivating another. That's Roman wormwood,--that's pigweed,--that's sorrel,--that's piper-grass,--have at him, chop him up, turn his roots upward to the sun, don't let him have a fibre in the shade; if you do he'll turn himself t'other side up and be as green as a leek in two days. A long war, not with cranes, but with weeds, those Trojans who had sun and rain and dews on their side. Daily the beans saw me come to their rescue armed with a hoe and thin the ranks of their enemies, filling up the trenches with weedy dead. Many a lusty crest-waving Hector, that towered a whole foot above his crowding comrades, fell before my weapon and rolled in the dust...."--from Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Chapter 7, "The Bean-Field"