Toward Thanksgiving

deer chompingOne of the late sources of food for the critters in my yard is the ornamental pear tree. It makes tiny, hard pears about the size of the end of my thumb, inedible for people but irresistible to deer and squirrels. First they eat the ones that fall to the ground, then they indulge in a little topiary.

squirrel peartreeThe tall stalks you can see standing under the tree are the stems of my Siberian Iris. There was a time when I’d have cut them all down, tidying up, but I have seen the error of my ways. I learned that the hollow stems become shelters in which Michigan’s solitary bees can hibernate. This was news to me because I used to live in Southern California, where bees have no need to hibernate. How lovely to discover that I could ditch a chore and be ecologically correct at the same time.

in cloverWe now have serious, white, twinkling frosts most nights, but the clover persists in several raised beds in the garden. There is one corner in particular that has continually generated good luck tokens since October: not only four-leafed clovers, but five-leafed and six-leafed ones! I have been up to my eyebrows in wishes. A friend says that five-leafed clovers must be given away for the wish to come true, but that’s not in my folktale culture. I was raised to believe that giving away good luck like that was a sign of ingratitude. I am cherishing these clovers, exuberant in their late lives, extravagant of leaf in defiance of the lessening daylight. Inspiring. Just to look at them is good luck – though when I wish on them I do close my eyes.

lucky clover

End of the Season

leafy groundNow the leaves are off about half the trees, the lawn a litter of red and gold slowly going brown. Charlie came and mowed, not to cut the grass, but to chop the leaves into mulchy bits for the wind to scatter evenly over the tired yard. I filled brown yardwaste bags with the remains of plants that showed signs of fungus or other disease, and set them out for collection. Then there are all the plants that would be considered healthy except they’re dead. From frost. Tangled pumpkin vines get piled up onto the raised beds from which they escaped. Anything tall and hollow that looks like it could harbor hibernating bees gets left standing. Two of the remaining empty beds get cleared out for tulips.

birdbath deerI put the tulips in the fenced garden to keep the deer from eating them, so I can cut them for bouquets come spring. Narcissus are toxic to deer, so those can go boldly into the front yard, the herb garden, the peony patch – anywhere. Even the most clueless fawn leaves them alone. It’s sort of a wonderful association, isn’t it – narcissus and toxicity. I’m sure there’s an evolutionary explanation for this difference between tulips and narcissus, but how telling that the poisonous flower shares its name with the Narcissus of mythology who fell in love with his own image. Toxic self absorption: the narcissist has a Greek root in common with “narcotic.” Luckily for the deer they have figured this out.

squirrel nutkinTulips however, are edible. A Dutch friend tells me that during wartime when they had nothing else to eat, the Dutch sauteed and ate their tulip bulbs, which were delicious (don’t try this now – today the bulbs are treated with fungicides). So I hoe up a trench in the raised garden bed, and plant the tulip bulbs. I’ve said it before, but it’s still true: the end of one season is the start of another.