September Summer

October has begun and with it will come falling leaves. But even the weather takes its own time in the South. Our uncharacteristically mild summer stayed all through September, urging folks to go one last time to the pool or to take a nap in the sun.  Cooler days are forecast for next week, but before they get here I just want to linger a moment over some late summer pleasures. DSC_0108 I’ve spent the waning weeks of summer enamored with this farro and chickpea salad. With the zing of za’ atar,  this salad is perfect for hot days.DSC_0091I took my friend R. through my yard so he could practice using his new camera. He gleefully snatched up a passion fruit off the vine and demonstrated how he used to eat them when he lived out in the country.DSC_0068We documented the flowers’ demise, DSC_0102the day’s deepening shadows,IMG_3051and how the blue of the sky peeked through the pergola roof.
IMG_3014On another warm Saturday I helped a friend with a yard sale. I put a few things out  to sell but my friend sold more than I did. Could the figure above have jinxed me?DSC_0060One  lovely Sunday night I made some fish tacos for an al fresco dinner.DSC_0063DSC_0066And it tasted as good as it looked.IMG_3065Finally, we met some friends at the Levitt Shell to hear an outstanding concert by the Memphis Dawls. Usually summer is a season I tolerate but do not enjoy. Humidity is not my friend. But thanks to these last mild weeks I’m able to usher it out with kinder regard than ever before. Goodbye, summer, and thanks for each moment and memory!

And how about all of you? What late summer fun did you enjoy?

My Autobiographical Garden

All gardens  are a form of autobiography.” – Robert Dash.

 

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I can’t stop thinking about my back yard. To say that events have not unfolded back there as expected this year would be a gross understatement.

I tend to take a benevolent dictator stance as a gardener. I agree to plant seeds with the understanding that in return said seeds will grow into objects of beauty and astonishment, seeking only to please me.

Of course sometimes  – ahem- often, things don’t turn out the way I hoped. And when that happens I always think I have next year to correct the situation.

And then I find out I don’t have next year to correct the situation, because the garden has taken a new path altogether, regardless of my wishes.  I realize I have counted upon an illusion.

Take this year. In late 2013 a pseudo ice storm froze several Leyland Cypresses, causing them to fall over my fence and knock it down.

The trees weren't pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

The trees weren’t pretty, but they did conceal a tacky shed next door.

As the bitter winter weather continued with low, low temperatures I huddled inside the house unaware of  how my plants would be affected.

When spring finally arrived, I saw I had lost Grandfather, my enormous rosemary. I counted on his leaves for cooking and his lovely aroma to greet me as I swam in the deep end of the pool.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn't make it.

This was an enormous rosemary named Grandfather. He didn’t make it.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

This was Grandfather during healthier times.

And my poor fig tree. It was dormant for a long time and when it finally began to leaf out, it was from the trunk and not the branches. What will this do to my fig crop this year? I don’t know.

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Because of the Leyland Cypress tree incident, in the spring we made the decision to cut down our remaining Leylands along the back fence. They had outgrown the bed and covered the patio beside the pool to such an extent that it was impossible to walk past. Down they came, leaving another gaping hole. We planted new arborvitae there which will eventually fill in.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

The new arborvitae barely clear the fence.

Despite my optimistic outlook, many of  my vegetable and flower seedlings drowned in the rainy spring. What has lived has not seemed very robust. And to add insult to injury, to quickly fill in the front of the bed with the new arborvitae,  I planted geraniums. Yes, they are hardy and colorful but they look like little old ladies.

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

I think they burned their hair sitting in one of those hair dryers at the beauty shop!

My gardening sprits matched the general ennui of the flowers. I could see this would not be a summer in which to have a flower fashion show, for there were no saucy teenaged fuchsias, shapely gourds, or statuesque bee balms in red high heels.

The garden had turned a corner, and so must I. Like so many events in my actual life, the truth of the garden jarred me. Who knew that after so many years of devoted service that I could lose my giant rosemary? That I would have only one single red hot poker bloom? How could I figure out solutions for the garden situation  before me? Should I just give up this gardening game?

This backyard dilemma had a ring of familiarity to me. I realized that once again my garden had  mirrored my actual life.  To make a 32 year old story short, a long time ago I had children.

1981-01 I did not know what I was doing but I did the best I  knew how.

1984-08a1988-01a Every time the children reached  a new stage in life, I was not ready. I wanted things to stay the way they were, whether it be kindergarten, third grade, or high school, because the future was unknown, and I always thought if I had a little more time I could really get the knack of the current situation.

1992-141989-45a

But those pesky kids kept changing on me, until they finally left the house.

2003-25 Of course I didn’t know they were really gone when they left, because like all mothers, I had bargained with myself. Sure, I could be a good sport about letting them leave BECAUSE THEY WERE COMING BACK. College is temporary, right?

2004-06

In time I accepted that they had begun their own lives, and that I had mistakenly believed all these years that I had unlimited opportunities to be a hands on parent. Again, I had relied on an illusion. We had all turned corners, begun to walk new paths. There would be no going back.

I pondered all of this as I regarded the new open spaces in the yard. Where the trees had knocked over the fence, I now had room to put in a few new hydrangeas. I could see that that corner, previously difficult to reach, could now become a destination. The giant rudebeckias would have more sun.

DSC_0011I didn’t plan it, but now that it had  happened, it seemed  just right.

I decided that the geraniums were a one season aberration. In my mind they would look more at home in a red state yard. That one was as easy to fix as a bad haircut.

And my vegetable garden? I’ve decided it’s time to start over. I’m going to turn the whole area into a larger bed with room for large stands of flowers as well as vegetables. In sections I’ve been turning the last grassy part of the yard into a bed, lasagna style. Before long I will be able to move some flowers which are  cramped where they are into spots where they can have more room to breathe.The change will be a good one.

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The part where I have existing flowers and vegetables I will leave for the season. Though many things are not hardy, I do have some carrots, tomatoes, a cucumber vine, some okra and tiny eggplants.

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But at the end of the season, I’ll uproot everything and lasagna it as well, enriching the soil, which will make a more hospitable environment for next spring.  I’ll put some kind of a path leading from my sunroom door all the way to the new destination at the back of the yard.

While I’ve been contemplating what to do in the yard, thoughts of my own life have not been far away. For several years now I’ve been an empty nester, at peace with the new path and actually quite pleased with the fun it has offered. Until I experienced it I never could have dreamed of the pleasures that would come along when one part of life ended and another began.

But I have known that  more life changes  were in the making, for they always are. Just one week ago today a whole new path  opened up for me when I became a grandmother.

GRANDMOTHER????? That would mean my own daughter is a Mother. Thank goodness I did all that good work letting go, so that I am very confident she and her husband are ready for that role.

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

My daughter has claimed for years she was ready for motherhood!

But what about me? The path is not clear. The only way I  know how to be a grandmother is to go over to my daughter’s house several times a week, and to have my grandchild with me at my house the other days of the week. In other words, seamless intimacy.  Immersion, even. How will I accomplish this when my grandson lives across the country?

I have worried and worried about this while dumping out bags of peat and pulling the endless weeds which proved to be my most bounteous crop of the season. And now the baby is born.  It discombobulates me even to think that he was born AND I WASNT THERE. I haven’t yet held him in my arms, but I gaze at him on FaceTime with some deep intensity every chance I get.

I’ll tell you one thing. Several, actually. Maybe I don’t know yet how I can function as a long distance grandmother, but I am going to kiss the fool out of that tiny blonde head. I’m going to trace every tiny wrinkle in his feet until I know each one  by heart. I’m going to memorize the sweet smell of the back of his neck to comfort me when I’m away from him.

As I plan flowers for my new destination spot at the back of the yard, I imagine sometime in the near future a pair of sturdy toddler  legs running past me to hide behind the burning bush. It’s just right.

IMG_2978                                                      Welcome, Baby Micah!

 

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.

 

Little Ole Ladies In Pasadena: Advice From Professionals

Magpie TV, devoted to bringing viewers the very best in practical information, is pleased to bring you travel tips from two very special little old ladies: The Magpie herself, and her stalwart companion Readmegirl. Hey, there’s precedent:

She's such a copycat! Source: starpulse.com

She’s such a copycat!
Source: starpulse.com

Martha Stewart appears on her own network. Tune in today to learn how to make sure YOUR trip feels as smooth as the zipper in your properly sized and packed suitcase  from start to finish!

Commercial Break: Planning a trip to Pasadena? We’d love to help, but we’ve only seen a few sights  there: Huntington Gardens, a famous bridge, and the Rose Bowl. What we can recommend is walking the neighborhoods and admiring people’s yards. If you happen to see inside their homes, so much the better. Here are a few neighborhood highlights:DSC_0382

DSC_0401DSC_0416Part One: The ladies, recently returned from visiting Krug The Thinker in Pasadena California, were not available to appear live, which is fine because this is not a live show anyway. Nor is it taped ahead of time. Our unique no audio/no video format made it oh so possible for our guest stars to compile some dos and don’ts from their most recent peregrination.We are also privileged to have some of their photos for our commercial breaks! ( We suggest some music now, but all we can think of is “Leaving’ On a Jet Plane.” Lame.)

1) Trip Planning: Arranging conveyance by airplane is more complicated than ever, warns  the Magpie.The fares, the routes, the service – all have become so unpredictable and frankly, unsuitable for civilized beings. What one wants and what is available often do not mesh conveniently. However, if possible, when arranging a trip, depart the morning AFTER the clock springs forward, depriving you of the one hour during which you sleep most deeply. You’ll be in such a daze you won’t even notice the delays or the bad breath of  the man behind you in the TSA line.

2) Airport Transportation: Never make assumptions about ground transportation. The wise traveler learns ahead of time what is available and makes arrangements accordingly. The alternative is to stand at the exit with one’s mouth open, inviting native insects in for a visit. IF one arranges a pickup by limousine service as the little ole ladies did, it is helpful upon landing  to respond immediately to the driver’s text announcing his arrival at the airport. But don’t call the one who most recently texted you. Ignore THAT text and call the one who picked you up last December!! That will really surprise him on his day off, and make for a zany good time leaving the airport!

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

Little Ole Ladies in Limo

3) Footwear:  Magpie makes it a point to have comfortable walking shoes. Last year the Magpie had occasion to own two identical pair of walking shoes, the first pair having rudely hidden themselves in the closet until after the second pair was purchased. Magpie’s response was to immediately put one pair inside her suitcase so she would always have a pair of walking shoes. Upon arrival at the Saga Court Motor Hotel, congratulating herself on her forethought, Magpie whipped both of those left footed babies right out of the suitcase.

Oops!

Oops!

4) Packing Light: Be creative! The Magpie never checks bags, so she tries to use multi purpose garments. For example, a bathing suit cover up can double as a nightgown. If, as happened to Magpie, you underestimate how cool it gets at night, especially with a roommate who wants the air conditioner running,  and you have to add a couple of shirts on top and a pair of jeans on the bottom so you won’t freeze, that bathing suit cover up will tuck right down in your jeans so that you barely have any bulges when you appear in the lobby in  your two left footed shoes and an ice bucket in which you plan to stack three or four cups of coffee to take  back to your room. Decorum is everything, Readmegirl reminds us.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

This is a very nice look for the hotel lobby.

5) Be Courteous! Some travel companions have odd proclivities, such as announcing that they cannot sleep while being serenaded with the combination of honking, sawing and gurgling that makes up snoring. If  you are awakened by a nudge in the middle of the night, and  are surprised to find a frowning yet familiar face hovering above you, demanding that you cease and desist, simply say “Thank you,” and go back to sleep. That’s how the Magpie handled it , and she’s convinced that the gentle approach to the nudger made all the difference.

Commercial Break: ( We recommend narration in a calm dignified tone.But you do what you want.)  Today we feature the Saga Court Motor Hotel  of Pasadena.

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

View from the second floor. Source: Saga Motor Hotel

This 1960s gem, located on Route 66, offers palm trees, a heated pool, and 1980s bedspreads. (Now  a little suspenseful music.) In addition, the  Saga’s peach colored stucco walls, retro atmosphere including jalousied windows, will make you sure that a noir mystery is occurring on the premises. We can’t be sure one did NOT take place, as we had a mysterious call from someone asking for “Marcia.”Who calls anymore on your room phone?? Keep the Saga in mind when you visit Pasadena. It’s reasonably priced, has an air of mystery about it, AND has a few books to read in each room.IMG_2664

And now we return to our show: We’re learning so much about how the smart set travels. But there’s more!

6) Don’t Avoid Responsibility: When you have been invited into town to see someone, don’t make THEM do all the heavy lifting. Specifically, Readmegirl tells us, when your hostess announces that her one of her sweetest friends who is also an incredibly talented chef is in town and wants to cook for all of you, insist on supervising! You may look as though you are only snapping peas, lounging on the couch, and drinking a purple drink called an Aviation, but in fact you are making sure those kids don’t burn the house down. In the name of safety, search your heart for the humility needed to complete this noble task. You won’t be sorry!

Stealth  Supervision

Stealth Supervision

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

Can you trust a man who makes beautiful crusts with his bare hands?

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

And makes you a beautiful purple drink in the middle of the afternoon????

Supervision has its own rewards.

Supervision has its own rewards.

7) Clarify, clarify, clarify: Readmegirl reminds us of the importance of communication. Here’s the kind of ubiquitous situation to which she refers: When you are  enjoying a glass of wine at an Italian restaurant where the decor is reminiscent of the Ratpack days  and your sister returns from the restroom and announces, “We’re all going to have to go on a field trip to the bar after dinner. It’s got gold wallpaper with black stripes with  machine guns on the walls”, DO NOT JUST ASSUME THAT THE SHOTGUNS ARE REAL!!!!!! You will be so, so disappointed!

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes.

When they get so disappointed you have to let them sit in the special chairs for a few minutes. I won’t say who thought the machine guns were real, only that between these two there are 78 years of formal education.

8 ) Don’t be territorial: You don’t have to be the center of attention at all times. Allow your travel companions to get ahead of you on walks and have their own conversations. After all it’s not THEIR fault you can’t keep up because you are having to wear someone else’s too large shoes that squeak so loudly that you have no chance to practice your favorite pastime of eavesdropping. Try not to take it personally when they get ahead of you while you lag behind to take pictures because after all, life is art, and that while ahead of you THEY witness a woman  watering her flowers clad only in a shirt and some shiny underpants. It won’t be easy, but in time you will get over it.

You can't be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture...

You can’t be talking every moment when there is such beauty to capture…

Ahey're probably NOT talking about you.

And they’re probably NOT talking about you anyway. Right??

9) Use your Southern hospitality! Expect to be included in your hosts’ lives and activities. When invited to drink celebratory beers with a group of Cal Tech astrophysicists and assorted other left brain specimens, accept happily and chances are they’ll never dream you know nothing about science. Instead, choose a topic of universal interest, such as your own wedding 35 years ago, and how your seventeen year old sister had to drive home the car that your male guests had adorned with inappropriate sayings. That’s something everyone can relate to!

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

Nonmembers cannot make purchases at the Athaneum Club. So all we could do was amuse the geniuses with our wedding stories. It seemed an even trade.

10) Getting Home: All good things must come to an end. If you are reluctant to end your voyage, chances are you will be packing, inexpertly, at the last minute. Some of the inexpertness could be due to the lateness of the hour, to the wine you are drinking to assuage your sadness, or to the knowledge  that the new suitcase you just  bought at the thrift store because luggage was 40 percent off does not unzip all the way around. Though Readmegirl is a very efficient little cuss, she could not make headway with her suitcase situation and was forced to avail herself of her sister’s help. Magpie’s expertise at least got all items packed, but put Readmegirl over the line for  carryons. Should this happen to you, advises Readmegirl, decide what you will give up if challenged at the airport. Should you decide to let go of the  red duffel bag you brought, as was Readmegirl’s choice, only leave your ignition key in the bag if you think it would be funny to call your husband and ask him to come pick you up at the airport one hour away from home at midnight. That joke never fails to get a response!

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Readmegirl struggles with her unzippable bag. Note the expendable duffel on the floor. Who knew it contained one tiny loose ignition key?

Well everyone, that’s all the time we have for today. We hope we’ve left you with some useful tips from this peripatetic duo. Viewers, as always, if you have tips to share, or simply want to validate the ladies’ experiences, we welcome your comments!DSC_0372 DSC_0407

Can’t Stop The Fall

I just got in from the backyard, and I’ve shut the door firmly behind me. It is October 16, well into the time when summer should be “shutting down”, but judging by the some of the plant  activity, revolution is in the air.DSC_0273

This old timer carrot realizes the time has come for him to become a part of my salad. Digging in his heels will only bring him into danger of becoming flash frozen in the dirt. Who wants that?DSC_0337This elephant ear shows the color splotches he has earned during many blazing hot afternoons on a patio. We expect these signs of character by October. He has fought the good fight. The onions have turned from a foamy, lacy white to an earthy brown.DSC_0278The burning bush is showing its first red leaves.DSC_0279But while some backyard citizens are yielding gracefully to the change of season,  a younger, less mature set is just starting out in life.  They are budding, blossoming, perhaps frolicking in the headiness of youth,  as though unaware that cool temperatures and short, dark days are just around the corner.

Naive optimism? Or plain nihilism?

Some expect to produce offspring. Will they have a chance? I wouldn’t want to say.DSC_0330

This gourd has at last appeared. He is an only child. Does he think he can halt the march of nature long enough for him to reach his full growth?DSC_0276

The tomatoes are churning out more blossoms, defying the notion that they should have been turned into mulch by now.DSC_0314

And look at this poor tomatillo, newly raised from seed after my first two attempts failed. It seems he wants to take his chances.DSC_0325

Meanwhile, the four o’clocks are blooming like it is June the sixth.DSC_0278

What can they all be thinking? Have they not seen this old grandma in her nightgown, telling all it is time for a long winter’s nap?DSC_0289But the youth…. they spurn the voice of experience.
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I’m hoping this dissension is not something organized. But when I see the reach of the hummingbird vine, I know that seditious ideas could easily be passed from one young bloom to another.DSC_0283DSC_0303They look innocent enough, but they would look that way, wouldn’t they?DSC_0274

Well, in case any of them are listening, I do not allow politics in my backyard. Swift action will be taken against any special interest groups which threaten the general ecosystem. I  empathize with those who find themselves unready for the march of time, who still have  big plans they will not be able to carry out when the weather changes. As an old lady who feels as spry as a cosmos bloom I too must accept that my time here is finite.
DSC_0318My message to any wannabe overthrowers in my backyard is this: No one can stop the fall.

Trading Blue for Yellow

A couple of Sundays ago I woke up feeling a little blue.  My problems were the usual stuff of those who have no real problems. I had now been living with my belongings dispersed through the house as if by a maniac for many weeks. Since my bedroom floor was now rough concrete, I was stepping in little grains of cement every time I went in my bathroom. Between the workmen tramping in and out and having our extant bedroom furniture  placed willy nilly in other rooms, trying to clean or organize was out of the question. I felt cheated because I had slept late and now my husband thought it was too late to ride bikes. Also, I had determined that only about five people were reading my blog. That was the real rub.

I contemplated this last opinion while I sat outside with my coffee. There was no doubt that I was feeling sorry for myself, and it was up to me to change the situation. Had I written what I wanted? Yes. Had I been satisfied with it? Yes. If a blogger writes a post in the forest, and the animals can’t read, is it a real blog post? I didn’t know, but I did know this mood was not going to fly. What could I do, I mused, to take care of myself right now and avoid the steaming morass of self pity that was lurking just over my left shoulder?

I knew! I knew! I was going to take my own self on an adventure! Quickly, before my brain could give me instructions otherwise, I threw on some bicycling clothes and smeared  sunscreen on my face. “You’re going all by yourself to Shelby Farms?” inquired my husband as he checked my bicycle tires. “Yep,” I replied, sliding my cell phone into my sports bra. “Maybe it would be easier to leave the phone at home,” he suggested. “Nope,” I replied.

I knew why he’d  said that. A few years ago while we were riding together I had tried to fish my phone out of my bra while riding. I wasn’t having any trouble until he came up behind me offering suggestions while I tried to answer the phone and stop the bike at the same time. Thanks to his “help” I pulled on only one brake, causing me to be thrown over the handlebars and onto the pavement, watching my cell phone clatter down the street.

Today I wasn’t going to get caught up into his fears that I would again answer the phone while biking. His fears were going to have to be his own problem. This bike ride was going to  be all about me, Baby.

In five minutes I was pedaling down  my driveway, free as I had felt on a Saturday morning in second grade after I had dusted the piano and been allowed outside to play. As a child  I  regularly biked for hours around our neighborhood. It was the same now except I had a helmet and could go as far as I wanted. How could it be that I rode my bike so seldom? Well, for one thing it is often hotter than Hades where I live, I reminded myself,  making it necessary that bike riders, along with walkers, runners, and gardeners , start their activities at dawn or not at all. Today, however, the temperature was tolerable and the humidity low.

My general destination was Shelby Farms, a 4500 urban park close to our home. In recent years a conservancy has made major improvements in the park including  turning an  unused railroad track into a Greenline to help connect citizens to the pleasures within. The part that will extend to my neighborhood is not yet built, so, alone with my thoughts , I took backroads for about 6 miles until I crossed into the park.

The park is split by a major thoroughfare. I rode into the south side which contains, among other things, a farmer’s market and an RV park. I rode beside the RV park, wondering what it would be like to have one, and to pull up to a campsite in the middle of the city to spend the night. After reading a mystery series in which the heroine drove an RV, I mentioned it would be fun for me to tool around in  one. This idea was just too much for the man who is afraid for me to take my phone on a bike ride. He sputtered about how hard it would be for me to maneuver, how I lack depth perception ( which is true) and the costs of gas. Mostly I think he was afraid he would come home and find an RV in our driveway. What does he think I am, I asked myself as I cleared the RV area. Impulsive?

Beyond the Rv area I rode on some narrow and some wide trails past the solar farm area and an enormous mulch making facility before cutting up closer to the road. I was close to my specific destination: the sunflowers.DSC_0714

Every year  the park plants a large field of tall sunflowers  which can be seen from the major thoroughfare. Countless children are taken there by their parents to pose for pictures among the flowers.  Engagement photos are taken there as well. Maybe some people even cut some  flowers to take home. I had always wanted to visit the sunflowers during their brief season, but until today I never had.DSC_0724

I dismounted and took out my camera. Rows and rows of sunflowers stood before me, just like a corn maze. I found an opening  and tromped in, taking care not to get too close to some families nearby who were photographing their children. As I admired all the yellow and  gold loveliness, I overheard parents admonishing their children to stop crying and smile for the camera. A Labrador Retriever was being urged to stand beside a recalcitrant child.DSC_0727

DSC_0716Nevertheless, it was a peaceful place. I could hear but not really see the traffic. And within the rows was a a magical feast of golds, yellows and greens. The sky was somewhat overcast, but the colors shimmered for me. Deep within the rows, unseen by any human eye, I stood perfectly still. All around me the bees buzzed and lit on flowers, while butterflies chased  one another from bloom to bloom.DSC_0744 DSC_0734 DSC_0739Everywhere I looked a sea of sunflowers faced the sun. DSC_0730Even the backs of their necks were beautiful to me.

How long did I stay? I stayed until I decided to leave. Somehow the warmth and simplicity of the sunflowers restored my equilibrium.  As I eventually pedaled away, I heard myself say to me, “You may have just five readers, but they’re QUALITY readers!” That made me laugh out loud. Yes, I was out on an adventure that day, and I wasn’t going by the specifications of others. I would follow the sun in my own way.

Code Orange No Longer In Effect

My friends, you have all heard the rumors of the Magpie Backyard Code Orange Security Alert  we recently faced. It is true that I solved the case in only one day, which means you may now go back to all your normal activities. I am not responsible for rescheduling the Midsummer Fashion Review. But I would not object to chairing a Philosophical Debate  Society so that we can mull all the ramifications of this recent event in our community while keeping alive ancient Greek and Roman oral and intellectual traditions.  Oh. Just file my report.? Very Well. My confidential account is below.

Respectfully Submitted,

Mr. Biblio Turturis

Head Of Magpie Backyard Security
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 TOP SECRET First of all, I never expected to be named Head of Security, and I don’t know why I was , except many were tired of the heavy handed tactics of Owlus Rusticus, who served for many years in this post. For years I have volunteered to oversee a debating society, yet the position remains unfilled.

Had he been at his job too long?

Owlus Rusticus: had he been at his job too long?

At first the  season was going well. We had the usual complaints: the slums at the back of garden, vandalism by young figs on the pool deck.

These kids!

These kids!

Most of the time I could read and keep my eye on things at the same time. But two weeks ago I received a disturbing report of an unauthorized device in the compost heap.

Where the device was found, with the white part protruding like a periscope.

Where the device was found, with the white part protruding like a periscope.

It had a long  white sinuous neck which protruded between decomposing issues of The New York Times. It was attached to a purple rectangle which held another rectangle inside it. There was instant unrest in the backyard. Mrs. Squash Blossom and her sisters had to be hospitalized after a bout of hysteria during which they were certain the object had grown up out of the Book Reviews, and posed a danger to their unborn children, for who knew what seditious ideas had seeped into the soil? The one known immature squash is being cared for, along with a young cucumber, by the Okra family. The Blossoms should be back to normal soon after emergency application of electrosunlight. One unripe tomato fled all the way to the end of swimming pool where it was last seen  calmly sunning itself on a lawn chair.

A weeping Squash Blossom, as neighbors try to comfort her.

A weeping Squash Blossom, as neighbors try to comfort her.

The child seems unharmed.

The child seems unharmed.

This tomato removed himself to another clime.

This tomato removed himself to another clime.

The Red Hat Society, sure the object was a sign of imminent attack from outside the yard, instituted a daily watch along the southern perimeter of the fence, which  they faithfully completed whenever they were awake and not playing bridge, whenever inclement weather did not threaten their hairdos, and  before cocktail hour. After one day of watching they reported seeing no undesirables.

A member of the Red Hat Society on patrol.

A member of the Red Hat Society on patrol.

I had to appeal to Owlus Rusticus for help in this matter. He took a break from his new job as Pool Director, where he was busy admonishing  youngsters not to congregate in the groundcover. He advised me to interview Grandfather Rosemary. And he complained about some of the skimpy bathing attire being worn this season. I couldn’t advise him on that, as I wear the same shell year after year.DSC_0736

Grandfather Rosemary has been here for at least thirteen yeas and does not scare easily.

This revered gentleman has many years of experience of supervision  around the diving board.

This revered gentleman has many years of experience of supervision around the diving board.

But he told me he had never seen such a thing come out of a compost heap in his life. Had it been spying, he wondered? That sent a chill down my shell. If the thing ( which by the way had uttered not one word since its discovery) had been sent by an adversary, I would need to coordinate with the Armed Services Committee Head, Cowboy Bob.DSC_0730

Cowboy Bob was under the influence, as usual. I could tell he’d been trying to lasso the new hanging lightbulbs on the pergola. DSC_0718And the Echinacea Girls  were just egging  him on, fluttering their petals and admiring his manly talk.

The Echinacea Girls using their feminine wiles.

The Echinacea Girls using their feminine wiles.

Mint has become absolutely rich betting him he can’t hit a single bulb.

He's filthy rich.

He’s filthy rich.

And night after night… Bob  doesn’t remember that the night before he couldn’t hit a single bulb.

It seemed I was on my own for help. I squirmed that night in my shell, searching for answers. What was this ungodly object, and did it mean us harm? How would Brother Cadfael proceed in such a situation? Or Aristotle? I awoke early as is my routine, and made a sweep around the yard. All too aware of the need for speed, I made the circuit in just under four hours.

The Lantanan Ladies were entertaining insects, seemingly undisturbed by the Code Orange.DSC_0723

But I noticed that some of our  expected summer citizens were not making much of an appearance this year. There were very few nasturtiums, for example, and the sweet potato vines I saw were certainly not as robust as in years past. Had the purple and white creature already begun to harm our ecosystem?

Upon inspection and interviews I found that the Celosians had become more bellicose than I had ever seen them. Instead of letting their fringy fur grow in unmanageable tufts, they were forming themselves into missile shapes in order to attack if needed.

A Celosian in a warlike pose.

A Celosian in a warlike pose.

And if not needed, I was told, they would try to enter the Midsummer Fashion Review in the Fake Christmas Tree category. When  I told them there was no such category, I heard distinctly unhappy mutterings from the crowd. But they had given me an idea: what about newcomers in our midst?

I got ahold of these new flowers as the breeze blew them past me.

Should new citizens automatically be suspected of ill intent?

Should new citizens automatically be suspected of ill intent?

Where were they from? I yelled from the deck stairs. Lichterman Nature Center! they yelled as they blew in the other direction. A Nature Center, I mused. That seemed innocent enough. And they were scared, too. I could tell. Their posture was appalling. I think the rumors were getting to them.

Some in the community I didn’t even want to approach. Hettie Hydrangea, for example.

Hettie prefers the shade.

Hettie prefers the shade.

She’s so delicate her little blue hair just wobbles on her stalk. She couldn’t be involved in this, so why bother her? To be polite I did stop by and check on her. She seemed happily oblivious to the dangers in our community, and was happy to tell me again how she, Grandfather Rosemary , and the Figs had colonized this area thirteen years ago. And her mulch tea was refreshing.

Corrie Opsis, as one might have expected, approached me, wanting to know why the Midsummer Fashion Review could not go ahead as  planned, since my investigations weren’t turning anything up.

Corrie with an unnamed relative.

Corrie with an unnamed relative.

Didn’t she know I would not be pressured? I felt  for her though. With  so many deadhead relatives that followed  her everywhere. I’m sure she counted  on the distraction.

I did hear some moaning and wailing over by  where the Nolias live. And God help me, I didn’t go over there. I knew they’d be no help. Maggie and her sisters had  been nothing but a hot mess ever since this Paula Deen thing came out. With Paula’s fall off the pedestal, they were  sadder than a burnt  fried chicken leg or a scalded chess pie.

The Nolias fell apart when they lost their role model.

The Nolias fell apart when they lost their role model.

Don’t base your self esteem on others’ lives,  I always say. Reflected glory isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Most of us thought  privately that those Nolias needed to come down a peg anyway.

Finally I made my way over to Vlad. It’s short for Vladimir I think, but no one ever asks him.

Vlad thinking deep thoughts.

Vlad thinking deep thoughts.

He’s kind of the Zen Master of the Backyard. He gazes for hours at shapes, never moving except to grab a fly with his tongue and slide it in his mouth in one  masterful movement.

He can contemplate something like this for hours.

He can contemplate something like this for hours.

What did he make of all this, I asked him. I didn’t expect an answer, and I didn’t get one. But what is an answer, actually ? I think I am developing some Zen-like qualities myself.

Defeated, I returned to my home perch in a potted plant. No one had seen the object since it had been removed by the Magpie the previous day. It upset us all to see the Magpie screaming like that as she tried to remove the maggots off the object which was still and silent  as death.  What a brave human she was for removing the device from our midst! As I reflected on this I heard a human enter the yard. It was the Magpie again. WITH THE DEVICE!!!!!

She threw it  carelessly onto the patio behind me. Maybe its bones were broken now.  Luckily my neck can go in all directions so I was able to observe her getting the hose and spraying off the purple part. I held my breath in fear that the object would detonate or release poisonous toxins. I heard her take a picture of the hideous thing  with her phone. Then she called someone and said, “Do you remember when I lost my Kindle? You’ll never believe where I found it!”

The creature that had secreted itself in the compost heap.

The creature that had secreted itself in the compost heap.

And just like that, I solved the case. Code Orange Averted!