Friday, April 16, 2010

War Zone

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for April 16, 2010

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
Thornton Wilder

Yes, it’s a teaspoon. And there’s the ocean. Or in this case, an ocean of sand. In the backyard. After the heavy winter rains. And flooding. And not only an ocean of sand but huge berms and trenches running higgly-piggedly across the yard, all earthworks hastily thrown up during a particularly long series of winter downpours to channel the growing flood waters away from the house. And pavers to move and a breezeway to re-grade, and piles of faux concrete cobblestones to re-arrange.

And now that the ground’s dried a bit and the shrubs and bushes are waking up and insisting their way up into the sky, it’s time to set the yard right again. With a small shovel that’s looking more and more like a teaspoon. And with fine powder sand – for every shovel-full taken out of the ground, half a shovel-full falls back in -- it’s a task that even Sisyphus wouldn’t want. “Hunh, this job’s like carrying milk in a sieve. Gimme my rock back.”

The dogs are no help. Amidst the hastily thrown up lumps and humps and trenches and berms, they’ve added their own gleeful Big Stupid Useless Holes Dug For No Reason, except the sheer joy of digging vast useless holes. And the path of one of the trenches parallels the serpentine, banked running track pounded into the sand by the dogs completing their morning and evening Zoomies – a race in and out and around the raised flower beds with thundering paws pounding out a banked racing track. A mini- Indianapolis 500, canine style. Smoothing and flattening the Zoomie track would be as useless as King Canute commanding the ocean to retreat. Two or three evening gallops later and it would be back in place. No use running counter when you have dogs operating as landscape architects.

After a few hours, the worst of the mess has been put right. The largest trenches are smoothed to swales, the sneaky weeds are pulled and the general disorder has been neatened up. And it becomes clearer than ever, I am no longer 40. Aw, who am I kidding? I’m not even 60 any more, as the back knows. Knees, too.

Time to head for the yellow Adirondack chair for a sit-down. To my right, the shaggy rough trunks of the great grape vine serpentine along the fence above the concrete retaining wall, soft green fuzzy buds popping out along its waving vines. Soon the fence will be canopied with a thick profusion of leaves. Under the vines the relentless giant Four O’Clocks have once again poked their green snouts above the sand. Nothing short of a direct nuclear strike can stop those plants. But best of all, the vitex trifolia purpurea, the lovely Arabian Lilac bushes that I thought had been killed by the winter frosts are alive and awake and busy refilling their branches with those lovely olive-green and lavender leaves.

In a winter war zone, it’s a heartening sign that once again spring is here and the race for summer can begin. With luck, the bees will return again to hum among the lavender plants. Already I see crows flying overhead with long strings of nesting material in their beaks. And at least one battling hummingbird has returned to check out the feeder and look around for a mate. Even the dogs are starting to laze around on the now warming sand, flopping down with huge sighs as if their long legs suddenly could no longer support them.

No doubt resting up so they can undo all my work. But I guess it’s a fair deal: They get their exercise digging great big useless holes in the ground and I get my exercise filling them back in. On a nice spring day, even Sisyphus might say, “Good enough. Gimme a shovel.”


Donna said...

delicious. real. sweet, sweet life.
i've been shoveling, too, out here in Militia Land. i only manage a wheelbarrow or two a week. fill the barrow with exactly ten heaping shovelsful of gravel, walk it waaaaaay down the driveway to pack the scrapes and gouges of the winter.
wish i could just do this sort of thing all day, but substitute work calls and i find myself chasing the buck and waddaya's next week already.
love your stuff.

Ron said...

Bee update 2010: I let the yellow blossoms go on the collard green plants this year, because they're about six feet tall, and striking. A couple of weeks back, I walked past them, and they were a-buzzin' with many bees.

Then the strong winds arrived the other day, and blew the top-heavy (because of the flowers) branches to the ground... made a helluva mess (that still needs attention), but the bees are still there, buzzin' around the downed flowers.

Ann wrote:

"After the heavy winter rains."

And spring rains. That last storm dumped nearly 2-inches in the ol' rain gauge. Awesome!

And the best thing about it? The soft, wet ground makes weed pulling a snap. Which is a good thing right about now, because the weeds are HUGE, due to those heavy winter rains.

I also created a big compost bin this year, using ideas from this web site:

Works great!

Now, because of that web site, when I mow (and there's A LOT to mow out here), I always attach the grass-catcher, and then dump bagful, after bagful of mulched-up grass clippings into my bin, and then add layers of pine needles. And there's no shortage of those out here, either.

Now I have about a six foot by six foot by three feet tall bin of composting stuff... um... composting. When I dig down into it a few inches, steam starts coming out.

Can't wait to use it.

Donna wrote:

"... fill the barrow with exactly ten heaping shovelsful of gravel, walk it waaaaaay down the driveway to pack the scrapes and gouges of the winter."

Uhg. That reminds me... gotta go. (Always chores. Always chores.)

M said...

With the wonderful drainage that the County provided my property with when they paved my street, my driveway is at the bottom of a bowl the street creates. My front yard is the drain plug for all the way up the street. Been that way for what? 30 years or so? I swear every rainy season I am going to give the County a call and demand some remedy. Then it quits raining and it's no big deal anymore. Although, this season it seems like i've gotten a lot more weeds than normal. I've managed to train the path of water across my yard and down the side, and the out the back, so it doesn't bother me too much any more. But these weeds are pi**ing me off. Although the wild flowers are an addition I haven't seen for awhile. Did somebody up the street from me throw some seed out?
Sincerely, M

Churadogs said...

Donna, give Sysyphus a call. He loves wheelbarrows.

Ron, sounds like you're turning into a gentleman farmer. I'm pleased about the bees, though. Was out your neck of the woods last Sunday right before the huge storm, racing down and around and through the Carrisa Plains then south on 22 miles of dirt road out to 166 then running for the coast with HUGE black clouds chasing us all the way. The trip and views and wilflowers were spactacular. Just as I got home, somebody turned on the faucet.

M. Ah, yes, road engineering Los Osos Style. If the "wildflowers" you're talking bout are thin stems with pink/purple/white little flowers on them, sheets and swaths of them? Then they may be toad flax, which will self seed and drift down the road or across the road with the wind and if you're lucky enough to get them all over your right of way they'll bloom and reseed more and more each spring. I had friends who had them in their yard gather handfuls of seeds and I scattered them in my right of way this this spring and had a bunch. Next year should be even better. Would love to see the whole town's streets adrift with their lovely pastel blooms. They're not natives, but they've adapted very well, grow on their own, then die back and disappear until the next winter rains.