Sunday, September 08, 2013

Plants Tattle

Weather: Cloudy afternoons, cooler dawns; last rain 8/30/2013; 13:39 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, Russian sage, roses of Sharon, zinnias and African marigolds from seed, cultivated sunflowers, alfalfa.

Beyond the walls and fences: Trumpet creeper, sweet peas, buffalo gourd, purple mat flower, leather-leafed globe mallow, bindweed, greenleaf five-eyes, ivy-leaf morning glory, silver-leaf nightshade, velvetweed, yellow evening primrose, Russian thistle, pigweed, ragweed, Hopi tea, Tahoka daisy, golden hairy aster, gumweed, horseweed, goldenrod, native sunflowers, áñil del muerto.

In my yard, looking east: Hosta, baby’s breath, coral bells, winecup mallow, Maximilian sunflowers.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Johnson Blue geranium, David phlox, catmints, calamintha, sea lavender, ladybells, lead plant, bachelor buttons from seed, Mönch aster.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, anthemis, chrysanthemum, dahlias.

In the open, along the drive: Fern bush, Dutch clover, hollyhock, Shirley and California poppies, larkspur, black-eyed Susan, lance-leaf coreopsis, yellow, red and mixed Mexican hats, Sensation and yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazanias.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small bees, hornets, small black ants.

Weekly update: Once upon a time, you knew when someone died. They hung something black outside the house.

Then, people didn’t want funerals announced in the newspaper, lest some thief take advantage.

Here, each house is isolated from its neighbors. No signals are sent, except at Christmas. But, you still know when someone has died. Nature tells you.

The first sign something had happened somewhere walked into my yard a few years ago. The small black cat ran if it saw me, but came every day to lay under my peach and wait for a bird.

When I grew tired of feathers, I started putting out food. It knew what dry cat food was. It knew the sound of dried cat food hitting the dish. It knew there were such things as regular meal times. It wasn’t feral, only homeless.

I asked a neighbor if he knew to whom it belonged. He’d seen the animal, but only guessed a place up the road.

I started looking for signs of abandonment at the place he mentioned. They’re not easy to see in an area where so many let weeds grow wild part of the year.

Then, I saw a middle aged woman standing alone in the drive. Something about the set of her shoulders signaled despair. She looked like someone who had lost a mother or daughter and was returning to clean our her last home.

I continued to glance at the place when I drove by. I knew I only had novelistic fancies about what had happened. And a hungry cat that wouldn’t come into the house on the coldest night of winter.

Whoever had lived there had once spent time on the yard. A mixed planting of yuccas and evergreens grew near the road.

Nearer the house, a circle had been planted with iris, hollyhocks, and taller evergreens.

Spring a year ago I saw a man pruning the Russian olives. A chain saw is often the first sign property has changed hands.  Some new owners seem to feel a need to prove they own a piece of land by eradicating whatever the previous own had done.

This spring, he was out with a torch, burning the grasses.

And the weeds, and whatever else seemed dead.

The novelist begins to conjure stories about family relations. Was he the brother of the woman, or her husband. Was he simply treating the weeds the way he’s been taught?

Or, was he working out some deep resentments against a woman who'd dared care about something besides him?

Or, was he simply still mad at a woman who demanded her son-in-law help with the heavy lifting?

Plants suggest possibilities, but remain indifferent. One burned area had been needle grass. Scurf peas came back. They were growing along the road. Apparently the seeds had been accumulating, waiting for the right opportunity.

In the xeric planting, the yucca survived.

It hasn’t been a good year for them.  It’s hard to know how much of its condition is due to climate and how much to fire.

Bindweed has taken over the areas between. It too was growing elsewhere and biding its chance.

Hollyhocks nearer the house have been thriving with this year’s late summer rain. Otherwise, things are back to normal. The dead trees have not been cut.

No matter how much I imagine, I still don’t know anything more than something happened. No two people ever treat plants and the landscape the same. You always know when something changes.

The cat continues to show up. I think someone else is also feeding it. A year ago it sometimes wanted to have its ears scratched. This year, it has grown more independent of humans, more feral. But it still knows dry cat food and where to find it.

1. Broad-leaved yuccas blooming at house down the road, 8 May 2012.

2. Christmas wreath at same house, 20 November 2011.

3. Homeless cat hiding in my yard, 22 June 2011.

4. Russian thistles accumulated in corner of house down the road, 30 March 2013.

5. Xeric planting, 20 December 2011. Broad-leaved yucca, evergreens, volunteer four-winged saltbushes

6. House circle marked by rail timbers, 8 May 2012. Blue and peach-flowered iris plants, evergreens, a red-leaved tree, and other shrubs.

7. Russian olive pruned into tree form, 19 April 2012.

8. Burned grasses, 11 April 2013.

9. Burned trees on the outer edge of the house circle, 11 April 2013.

10. Scurf peas growing amongst remains of burned grasses, 14 May 2013.

11. Burned yucca, 11 April 2013.

12. Xeric planting, with bindweed and snakeweed growing between the yucca and surviving evergreens, 24 August 2013.

13. Hollyhocks in overgrown circle, 24 August 2013.

14. Cat, 31 May 2012.

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