It’s 7:18 am in my backyard. The air feels cool on my bare shoulders. I’ve just returned from walking at Logan Green where the blackbirds sang among the cattails while I crunched gravel underfoot. The August sun was just at the right angle to backlight the tall grass and thistles with a dreamy glow, but now that I’m in my yard it is high enough to make me grateful for shade.
I am sitting in a neon green lawn chair, the cheap kind with a saggy back and net cup holder. There are four other chairs like this, all with mismatched colours nearby. The bright pink one is cock-eyed, its aluminum frame poking through a hole in the fabric in the top left corner, and I feel a surge of discontent with my life that surely could be remedied with the right furniture. In the next moment my eyes wander to the plants rimming our circular brick patio. Thyme, calendula, zinnias, basil, and lemon balm distract me from all I lack. The tiny white flowers are nearly hidden on the thyme while the zinnias splash their pink petals all over their green canvases. Despite heavy hail and almost total abandonment this summer, my garden is still trying to be a garden.
Our plum tree, too, is putting forth a valiant effort. We treasure it for the the fragrant blossoms in spring, the shade it throws at midday, and it’s sweet, rustic fruit. Unfortunately, it is infested with aphids. On the undersides of the shrivelled leaves there are thousands of newborn nymphs ready to aid their army in destruction. Wasps swarm around the tree, attracted by the aphids’ sweet honeydew secretions. This, in turn, draws swallows who hunt the wasps. Depending on which way you look at it, the whole thing is a raging battleground or a never-ending banquet.
In the middle of the patio is the fire pit. A small wisp of smoke curls up from the ashes, even though I doused the fire nine hours ago before going to bed. The fact that I can still smell smoke and the ashes are hot reminds me that it was a good fire. And a good evening. Our tomato-soup-coloured wheelbarrow is parked beside the fire pit where I was sitting last night. It’s wooden arms are still strewn with dried garlic stocks. While I visited, I had been clipping the cured bulbs from their stocks and trimming root hairs. It is one of my favourite rituals of the summer, partly because garlic is the most successful vegetable in my garden, and partly because of the names of the hardneck varieties I grow: Music and Red Russian.
What you can’t see this morning is the honey. Two weeks ago, we spun out frames from our four hives. Ever since then it has been on tap at our house, with friends streaming through our yard to fill up their jars. (I assured the new neighbours who just moved in beside us that we deal honey, not drugs.) Most days, a pail with a spout near the bottom sits on our picnic table. Every time I open it and watch the golden flow I can’t help but gush, “There’s so much pollen in it this year!” I am not sure there is more pollen in it than any other year, but when I hold full glass jars up to the light shining through the spruce it seems excessive and extravagant.
I said the same thing about pollen to Rita last night. She dropped by our house looking to fill her empty peanut butter jar and joined the circle of lawn chairs surrounding the honey pail, where Emily and Angela were already sitting with my daughters. After I weighed Rita’s full container, I made a fire and Emily helped me move the picnic table to the side so we could all sit around the flame. (I would have asked Belén, but she was wrapped in a blanket and coughed deeply from her chest every few moments. She has had trouble breathing over the last week and is not improving as much as I’d like.) Though our ages spanned 30 or 40 years we had enough to talk about, like going to university, the ocean, music, art, writing, bees and being tall.
While we visited, I shook clumps of dirt off my garlic bulbs and rubbed their papery skins. Suddenly, a spark jumped out of the crackling fire and flew into my basket of fresh garlic. Gingerly, I dumped the entire pile onto the patio. Then Rita crouched down to help me search for the glowing ember and together we returned the winter’s supply to my basket. Rita, I thought, is the kind of person who comes over to your backyard for the first time and makes you wonder why she hasn’t been there many times before.
Now, my pen travels the page as I sit and survey my yard. This early Sunday morning is the out-breath of the evening before. It feels good to marinate in it while the scent of wood smoke remains in my hair. Later, when I will type all of this out I will wonder why I wrote any of it. There is no story. No meaningful through line that I recognize. I will keep typing anyway, reminding myself that writing is a practice. Which means I can do it for no other reason than to practice noticing and reaching for words to record that noticing. Then, while the sun sinks low enough to make me squint at the laptop monitor, Stan will come out the back door holding his guitar. He will sit down in one of those tattered chairs and begin singing a country song by Anthony Kelly. “You belong here,” he’ll croon. The next one will be about Emmy Lou Harris’ “red dirt girl.” Soon after, Belén will bring out her cello and sit at the edge of the picnic table with the slivers and peeling paint. Aphids husks will litter the ground around us and I will swat at the wasps buzzing around my hair. I will not want to stop writing. I will try to keep up with my words as every moment of the battle and banquet unfolds.
This post is heavily sponsored by Reeds’ Bees. See http://www.reedsbees.com to find out more! 😉