Footprints and Bitemarks

Every morning I go out into the yard to check for signs of late night and early morning visitors. The tomato plants are safely installed behind wooden fencing and chicken wire, but most of the yard is open to all comers. With the help of some Michigan field guides I’ve learned to inventory the damage:

Deer: heart-shaped footprints, often placed daintily between plants without mussing them; chewed stems and leaves look like they were attacked by a kindergartener with dull scissors.

Rabbit: stems look like they were carefully sliced through by a master chef or ikebana expert in one clean, diagonal cut.

Woodchuck: stems, leaves, and flowers are not just bitten off, but wallowed over. Damage includes general crushing, as well as broken stems of innocent bystander plants.

Equally as interesting is discovering what the animals don’t eat. I spent much of my first Michigan growing season believing that sellers of so-called deer-and-rabbit-proof plants were blatant liars, but eventually I realized there’s just no accounting for taste. One deer’s nasty medicine is another deer’s caviar. I learned from a friend who lived in the foothills in California that to know what the animals in your yard will eat, you need a test kitchen: buy just one each of the things you hope to plant, set them out where the critters will find them, and wait a few days. The truth will out.

deer 2 cropped

Highest on the Inedibles List of my local herbivores are, in fact, herbs – thyme, sage, basil, oregano, those scented things we humans use to enhance the flavor of our other foods. These apparently trigger disgust in deer and rabbits. It’s amusing that they’re repelled by things we might cook them with. No sense pre-seasoning themselves.

herb garden

The Herb Garden


Keeping Tomato Faith

Every year in July there comes a day when I am convinced my tomato plants are not going to be productive. I see their struggles with weather, chipmunks, birds, bugs, and weeds, I count how few of them are on the vines, and I sigh to think this is the year when there will not be a whole lot of tomato sauce in the freezer.

Every year in August I have enough tomatoes to pave the kitchen floor. The two chipmunks spent most of their time fighting each other; the birds ate the bugs; the weeds were not that hard to keep up with; and I didn’t see many tomatoes because they were still small and green and hidden under leaves. They grew, they ripened, and here they are. Oh tomatoes, I am so sorry to have doubted you. Please accept this poem as an apology.rolling in


Revisiting the Eagles

Some weeks ago I wrote a post about seeing the eagles’ nest. I knew I’d get a poem out of that. Here it is.

Walk With Eagles and Thunder

As the road nears the river,
drama, but at altitude:
rumbling clouds, a waving tree,
a nest of eaglets stretching their wings,
aspirational silhouettes on a sky,
we see them, waiting
for the white-headed pair
now bearing captive fish, up, up,
through flights of lightning,
to those who are innocent
of that weight and struggle,
water and air laced with each other,
rain starting to fall,
we will be soaked with it
before we can get home.

A Perfect Sunday

Sometimes a summer day really hits all the marks.

The temperature was under seventy degrees when we got up, so Doug was agreeable to some yard work. The weeping cherry tree, so lachrymose that parts of it had died, was in need of a good trimming, which we effected by means of ladder, loppers, extension poles, and leaning out of second story windows. Really. Alas, I did not take pictures.

Happy with the result of that, no bones broken and the temperature now in the very pleasant seventies, I settled on the deck for my usual Sunday observance: the Church of the New York Times. Having already read most of the front section’s news Saturday online, I breezed through that, skimmed the Sports section – hey! an article about Jim Harbaugh! – and made my way through style, opinion, arts, business, travel, and magazine, to the real and only reason I subscribe to the Sunday Print Edition: the puzzles. When they announced they were redesigning the magazine, dudgeon was high among puzzle-lovers. “Put down your pitchforks,” said the New York Times (how did they know?) and treated us to a batch of extra puzzles without harming the beloved crossword. A soft pencil, a cup of tea, and I was set for the afternoon. Yes, I can do the crossword in pen, but I need a pencil for the seven-box Ken Ken and the acrostic, and I like all the writing to match.

When all the boxes and blanks were filled in, I weeded the herb garden. This sounds like work, but it consisted of kneeling on a cushion and running my hands through lavender, thyme, lemon balm, sage, and three kinds of basil, tugging out bits of grass, oxalis, and purslane that had wound their way in among them. I’m told purslane can be used as a salad green, but not by me. Too bitter.

After this I could have just sat around all evening sniffing my hands. Yum. Instead, I cut up some tomatoes and basil, laced them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and tossed them into some pasta. We ate outside, on the deck, as the fireflies came out and a sense of enormous peace wafted over the yard and settled around my shoulders.

Simple enough. What made this a perfect day? The summer light, the temperature, the quality of the air? The balance between physical and mental activity? Was it having things to do that I thought worthwhile, but that didn’t really matter if I messed them up? Not all perfect days are alike, and often the intention to have one is not enough. Nevertheless, as you see, I am writing this one down, in case it turns out to hold any useful instructions for my future self.