Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Winter Into Spring

memorial kitty
Memorial Kitty

Well, we aren’t to April, the cruelest month—if you’ve read the poem by T. S. Eliot*—yet, but even late winter reawakens memories when the sun shines just so and we pull back the leaf cover to welcome the return of living memories. It is not a sad time for me. I still love all those whose cremains rest beneath the sleeping kitty, and I love all the current kitties as well. We are not past and present, memory and potential, we are a family.

Mom has a lot of work to do!
Mom has a lot of work to do!

For some reason Cookie was very much with me this weekend as Mimi and Mewsette shared part of two cold but sunny afternoons, and then as I worked alone in this sweetly familiar back yard. The back yard is still shaped very much as it was when Cookie was last with me in 2012, and I remember those first weekends outdoors that we both loved, clearing away the flattened leaf cover and watching the green reappear. But since she’s left us, trees have grown, trees have fallen, the light has changed, deer have entered our yard, I’ve neglected or given up on caring for areas until I can determine the best ways to proceed. Even my little memorial area had overgrowth encroaching, deer chewing up the plants around it, and the ever-expanding forsythia blocking my view of it from the house (in the photo below, find the little row of stones under the center of the forsythia, follow it left to the green leaves on the other side of the forsythia, and that’s where the memorial kitty is). I’ve begun to make changes, in a way bringing the yard back to how it was when I moved here.


Below you can sort of see how it was, in the end photo how the forsythias had grown almost to the deck.

And had some time to think over a few decisions for the immediate future, which I spent more time on last week than I did celebrating my birthday. Unfortunately, I’m once again looking for another good deal on a used car as I was last year at this time. The rainy autumn and heavy winter took a toll on the rust on the Subaru and it needs a couple thousand in frame and body repairs to pass its (January) inspection. It’s a good car and I would pay for the repairs, but the car isn’t big enough for me to do vendor events, which I totally hope to safely start up this summer. I was hoping to make the purchase in preparation for that, but now it is. I have three vehicles to consider, one I could purchase now but can’t get to my mechanic, and two I need a week or two to get the money together, the best purchase being the $5,495 Dodge Grand Caravan, which many of my artist friends have so I know it’s a good choice. I spent a good bit of time learning about paycheck protection loans for sole proprietorships, but because my income was cut in half and then quarters in 2018 and 2019 from my hip problem and replacement, I qualify for the loan but my income doesn’t look like a good risk to lenders. Good thing I’ve been saving as much of my pandemic unemployment along with my regular wages as I could in preparation for that rainy day.

Mimi on the pared-down mulberry, and you can see the park bench in the background.

So after a week spent largely at my computer, I was raring to go when sunny days came, even if they were cold, ready to start cleanup. Years ago, I had set up the yard as a backyard wildlife habitat, and the back third of it has always been native plants and shrubs, but even a habitat needs to be maintained. I had reinforced the wire fences that were here when I moved in with plantings around the outside and brush on the inside that was a great benefit to little critters but that deer had a very difficult time jumping over, and groundhogs had equal difficulty digging under. My neighbor’s tree, and branches from another, fell across my fences at about the time a greater number of deer appeared in our neighborhood, driven from their habitat on the hilltop by a development that wiped out the last few acres of greenspace in our community.

A buck sleeping in my back yard.
Today’s visitor.

At one point my “woodland garden” included a decorative wooden wishing well and a wrought iron and wood park bench from my mother’s yard, and dozens of species of annual, biennial and perennial natives and some non-natives that I like anyway. Falling branches broke the wishing well more than once and even weighed down the mulberry tree so that it reclined over the entire area—which Mimi loved—and last year one last branch smashed through the park bench that Mimi had posed on so often, and that I enjoyed sitting on. The neighbor’s falling tree in the sunny area out there seriously damaged both my native crabapple, and the non-native variegated weigela my mother had gotten me because I loved hers so much growing up. The many understory plants took a beating then too.

The woodland garden in spring, with leaf litter and ground covers it's the perfect flea habitat.
The woodland garden in spring, with leaf litter and ground covers it’s the perfect flea habitat.

The deer stepped right over my downed fences and made themselves at home. And they ate everything but the roses of sharon and honeysuckle that suddenly sprouted with the newly opened spaces. I worry about the deer because their entire territory is only a dozen back yards, no park or ravine or greenspace they can also browse, and there just isn’t enough here for them to eat, even if someone fed them, though deer kibble isn’t a healthy natural diet. I might sacrifice my flowers to the deer (I did, dozens of native species along with the hybrids and the beloved hand-me-downs, and even a few shrubs and small trees, all gone) but then they moved on to my vegetable garden, and no fencing could keep them out of it. I’m a master gardener, and my sustainable organic vegetable garden has been my main food source since about five years after I moved here, and the most affordable source for quality food for me, not to mention the health benefits of gardening and the inspiration of it all. That’s a nice way of saying they went too far.

Mom gives me a pretty serious look from the garden.
Mom gives me a pretty serious look from the garden.

I was and still am enchanted by the deer, as you would guess from all the photos and paintings. But the real concern is their ticks, which I’ve found on myself more than once. Pennsylvania leads the country with cases of Lyme disease. I know several people who have been diagnosed and ones who’ve really suffered from it. It’s a serious threat to health and not just for me, but also for my cats whether they come outdoors with me or sit by the basement door at ground level. Then beyond my household I also have a concern for people I invite to my open house events with my tent in the back yard. I know there is at least one tick-loving possum out there, but there would be ticks all over the back yards and I think we’d need an army of possums, which would be cute, but probably not possible. I’ll see how much I can do to keep this under control, at least.

The repaired fence and all those branches cleaned up

So this weekend was part one of clearing the clutter so there isn’t as much for the deer to eat, nor the habitat that’s best for ticks, and then restoring my fences. I was out there with lopping shears and a pole trimmer along with a hand axe for small trees, electric hedge trimmers for small and medium branches, and little hand trimmers for finishing. I dragged those large fallen branches into the neighbor’s yard, where they also have a pile of branches and trimmings from those same trees, then pulled the crumpled fencing out from under the leaf litter and stretched it back up onto the metal posts. That’s the stretch that runs across the deer’s main path into the yard and the side entrances, from behind the park bench. The top edge of the fence sags and I let it flop to one side or the other, which has always helped to deter the deer. The mulberry tree needs to go too because it shades the soil and keeps it damp, creating a total nirvana for ticks. That’s one reason I’ve tried to keep Mimi on the deck and bricks and avoided it myself. The tree is alive on top—which the groundhog has climbed and denuded for the past two years, amusing to see a groundhog in a tree—but long dead where it reclines on the ground, so I removed all the dead branches I could reach and cut many of the living branches with the pole trimmer. A neighbor with a chainsaw will help me with the rest, and I can decorate my yard and build raised beds with sections of the trunk.

One interesting find was scat likely from a fox. Yes, I mean fox poop. I sent pictures to a wildlife rehabber friend and she confirmed either coyote or fox, and the smaller size meant likely a fox. And beyond interesting, I’m excited to know there might be a fox out there! The snow cover this winter was fantastic for tracking the species traveling through my yard, but I didn’t see any canine pawprints, so it must be a new arrival, or it kept in brushier areas or followed in the tracks of other animals in the snow. But when am I going to see it, or better yet photograph it? It might have been only passing through.

Many of my weekends have been occupied by informative webinars, and I would not spend three or four hours outside on weekdays—those are for making things for the upcoming season. But I am planning an open house in April and hope to have at least one more weekend before then to work on the rest of the back yard, and maybe even get my vegetable garden started.

But unless I have some serious running around to do to get the new car, and the least expensive one is two counties and over 50 miles away, at least I’m back at my desk. It’s good to feel stiff and sore and a little tired from working outdoors, and it’s just what I needed to settle me down. That and a lot of photos to process.

Mewsette must sniff each stem in order.

*The first few lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land have the best description of the sense of protection in winter, huddling indoors while outdoors the world is frozen in place, until spring thaws and we must emerge:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Read the rest of the poem here.

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One thought on “Winter Into Spring

  • Love that cute deer visitor. Oh yes, it’s about time for the yard work to begin, we’ve got lots to do here too!


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