From a few seeds

Now summer is really over. It turns out fall is somehow better than summer – sunny, warm, and sometimes the wonderful fall wind springs up.  Beautiful leaves are tugged off the trees.  The grass is a magical green because of all the rain we had.  The garden was mixed.  Kale a great success, potatoes not bad, the novelty of the blue ones adding an exotic note.  The tomatoes were a disaster.  Swollen and tasteless with rain, sometimes rotting on the vine. There were only a few peppers, onions not bad. The garlic simply disappeared but the onions were fairly good.

And here are these wonders.  Great sunflowers grown on a whim from a few seeds found in an old package that had been shoved into the back of a drawer.  Strong thick stems are still not equal to the task of holding up these great heads.  We stuck one up into a small evergreen as a makeshift bird feeder.  The others, their heads hanging down wait for the first frost.

I love the mysterious geometry of the pattern of the seeds. Look how they spiral around perfectly.  I don’t know why but it reminds me of the complexity of quilting or embroidery.  So much effort in our worlds to create such a pattern.  So effortless in nature.

Sky mirror


This wonderful white gladiolus flower appeared suddenly this month.  I had planted bulbs at the end of each vegetable row and they all came up, red-orange and beautiful.  Then when all were completely finished blooming, this white one appeared.  A mystery which seemed to be reflected in yesterday’s sky.

Woody Woodpecker


Ladies and gentlemen… here he is, fresh from Hollywood, just as raucous, cheeky and impudent as ever… your favorite and mine, Woody Woodpecker! It is very hot and sunny in Muskoka.  Confused birch trees are gently dropping their small brown leaves in the still air. Not a breath of wind disturbs the bees as they gather the last of clover nectar.   All is tranquil until Woody appears on the scene.  With a series of screeches he flaps around the property, examining the bark of various trees.  After a few half-hearted pecks he immerses himself in the leaves and branches of a choke cherry tree and makes a feast of the ripe fruit.  He hangs upside down, his red poll conspicuous in the leaves.  With a squawk he flies off to the next fruit tree, cackling as he goes,.  He flies very low from one tree to another so that I sometimes get the impression he is dive bombing me. The white underside of his wings make a show as he flaps around from one tree to another.

I always loved  cartoon Woody Woodpecker for his naughty ways and loud voice.  Well, here he is in the flesh and feathers! He hung out in our back lot all afternoon and probably went off to scare up a little feminine companionship with his cackling laugh and pesky ways.  Never a dull moment with Woody!

September insects



It was a dismal summer and in the country we lamented the absence of butterflies and bees, nodding our heads gravely and tutting over the decline of insect species.  Now it is September and unseasonably sunny and warm in Montreal.  Two days ago during a visit to a Home Depot garden center, the cone flowers, delphinium and sedum were a cheerful sight.  What was even more startling than the bright colours were the swarms of butterflies and bees enjoying the sunshine and pollen. I went so far as to encourage our cashier to go out to the plant section and enjoy the sight.  “Like the botanical garden when the butterflies come to visit,” she remarked and really it was.  I am not sure but I think this species is Painted Lady or Admiral.  If anyone is sure let me know.  I particularly liked the lace effect of the wings when they were closed.

Another welcome visitor this morning was the grasshopper sunning himself on my step.  I like the geometry of the bar shadows.  Can you see him in a strip of sunshine?  I wanted to recite the Lafontaine verse, The Grasshopper and the Ant.

My neighbor who has urban bee hives reports a bit of trouble with her attempt to replace a queen bee with a young queen.  It seems the procedure is to install a new queen after three years so that a good supply of eggs is kept constant.  Quite a contrast to our monarchy.  It seems that it can be perilous to be queen bee, however.  The other bees killed the new queen and would only accept one the hive chose by itself.  A rough sort of democracy.  My grandson’s laconic remark on the regicide, “With reason!.  Why would you trust a stranger.”  I have a feeling that was translated directly from the French.  It retains a certain Robespierre tone.  Anyway, all this bother about the queen means that the bees are late making honey and that my dear friend will not break the record of 70 kgs. of clear and delicious honey and all from one little city hive.

Much to observe and be thankful for during these wonderful hot and sunny September days.


Our potatoes


Potatoes have sustained nations.  Now, the ones I planted myself sustain me.  In the late spring Joe tilled the ground and returned with his arms frozen into the pose of a Hells Angels biker.  It is hard to till ground in Mid-Ontario.  I hesitate to call it Northern Ontario because of the respect I have for those who live in Timmins or Sudbury.  Parry Sound area is North enough to make planting a vegetable garden an exercise in optimism.  Well, we did.  We planted potatoes, many varieties, tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, garlic and onions.  We planted some carrots too.

The summer was dismal.  It rained all the time and  a tornado descended on us once a week. One of them uprooted a twin-trunked poplar at the edge of the trail.  Poplars are not very strong trees but still, it is disconcerting to see a wall of sod appear where the tree is upturned.  All this time we fretted over our vegetable garden.  We never once had to irrigate so that tells you something about the sunshine level all summer.

The garlic simply disappeared.  We never found a trace of it.  The peppers sulked and finally sent out a few measly specimens  in August.  The tomatoes grew large but most had to be picked green and ripened indoors. A squash, a cucumber here and there, two carrots, helped keep our spirits up.

The acid test would be the potatoes.  Here they are – so different from those awful monsters covered in foil and baked in the oven.  Aren’t they nice?  We ordered heirloom species during the cold days of March and now for the first time ever I get to eat fingerlings, blue and red potatoes and to serve them with a superior smirk to my guests.

We did learn a few lessons.  First, we needed to till the earth more.  Potatoes like more aeriated soil.  Second, we should have planted them further apart so they had room to grow bigger.  Third, we should forget all about the other stuff and only plant potatoes.  Joe does not agree with that but my peasant side comes out.  I know I can buy tomatoes, onions and cucumbers for pennies at harvest time.  However, nothing can duplicate the joy of munching those potatoes that my poor Irish ancestors depended on to survive – or to perish.  I feel like calling down the centuries, “See, I can  make potatoes grow too!  You would consider the blue ones funny looking.  But those are the South American ones, the original ones.  I plant them to say thank you to the mountain people who grew them in the wet climate and who ate them to stay alive.”

My guests had lamb shoulder too, falling off the bone in a sauce of onions and garlic and the potatoes in a garlic and oregano and lemon juice sauce.  No Irishman or South American could have asked for more.  The guests dragged the serving plate this way and that mopping up the juice and did not leave one potato.  I looked at my hands as I washed the dish late at night and thought of the cool earth into which I had pressed the potato segments, each with an eye to grow the green plant.  I liked what my hands had done. (Joe eventually was able to open his fists and lower his hands but next year he swears we’ll ask the neighboring farmer to till that patch.)


After the Eclipse



Was it any more miraculous than the phases of the moon, than the shortening days of fall, than a sudden snowstorm?  It was in some ways.  Poor Galileo’s ghost hovered, slowly nodding his head and whispering, “I told you so.” As the hot late summer afternoon turned to twilight, excited kids ran down my overgrown lane with home-made viewers.  Something in them answered, “Too bad you had to die before we were enlightened – or unenlightened, sir.” They all know what you were talking about now.  It’s part of their You-Tube, Ted Talks education. Funny how when they grow up and become lawmakers they’ll forget, or find it less important than the gross national product.

How surprising it was to find in the couple of days before the eclipse so many people who didn’t have the faintest idea that it was imminent.  As I scoured the shops for safety glasses for my grandchildren, shop assistants wrinkled their brows and offered me “clips?”.  One bright spark admitted that it might have been a “good idea” to have a few pairs on hand.  I finally found some in a toy shop and was grateful to the intrepid lady in front of me who insisted that the young lady at the cash open the package to be sure they bore an ISO number. Maybe I was overanxious (a fault of grandmothers). After all, even the President of the United States took a sneak peek without his glasses.  He is, however, a specialist in various types of blindness.

How is it possible to be blind to our place in the universe? Given our finite number of days, surely a wonder, a sign like this that the mechanism really is in orderly

motion should be cause for a sort of reverence.  We get blasé about the change of seasons, about the silver lantern in the sky at night, about birth, even about death.  The eclipse makes us see that something grave and mighty is at work.